on 14 November 1997
ITEM FOR FINANCE COMMITTEE
HEAD 80 - JUDICIARY
Subhead 111 Hire of services and professional fees
Members are invited to approve supplementary provision of $21,486,000 under Head 80 Judiciary Subhead 111 Hire of services and professional fees.
The approved provision under Head 80 Judiciary Subhead 111 Hire of services and professional fees is insufficient to meet increased expenditure in 1997-98 for the engagement of Temporary Magistrates and Deputy Judges and the provision of transcripts of court proceedings.
2.The Judiciary Administrator (JA) proposes supplementary provision of $21,486,000 under this Subhead.
3.The approved provision of $45,351,000 under Subhead 111 Hire of services and professional fees in 1997-98 covers expenditure for the engagement of private legal practitioners as Temporary Magistrates and Deputy Judges, the provision of audio recording and transcript production service and other professional services.
4.JA estimates that expenditure for the whole of the 1997-98 financial year will exceed the approved provision by $21,486,000, calculated as follows -
$ ' 000
$ ' 000
$ ' 000
$ ' 000
| (a)||Actual expenditure up toend October 1997|
||Estimated expenditure for the remainder of the 1997-98 financial year|
|(c)||Estimated total expenditure for 1997-98 [(a) + (b)]|
|Less||(d)||Provision for 1997-98|
required [(c) - (d)]
Note : Total expenditure is controlled by subhead. The breakdown of the approved provision into major components of expenditure is for internal resource management purpose.
Appointment of Temporary Magistrates and Deputy Judges
5.The estimated additional expenditure of $11,421,000 in 1997-98 for the engagement of Temporary Magistrates and Deputy Judges is due to an unusually high number of temporary appointments made this year having regard to the following -
- a relatively high number of judicial officer vacancies spread across the different tiers of the Court resulting from retirements, consequential vacancies relating to the establishment of the Court of Final Appeal and unfilled vacancies carried over from the previous year. There are currently 39 vacancies yet to be filled; and
- the new Chief Justice who assumed office on 1 July 1997 wished to have a period of time to assess the suitability of candidates, whether from within the Judiciary or amongst the temporary appointments, before proceeding with their substantive appointment. In some cases, this involves assessment of candidates who are required to sit for reasonable periods of time as temporary appointees.
6.As at end October 1997, there were 23 Temporary Magistrates and two Deputy Judges appointed from amongst legal practitioners in private practice. We are at an advance stage in processing applications for permanent appointment to fill the vacancies and we expect to fill the majority of the vacancies shortly. Nevertheless, we estimate that we will continue to appoint on average nine Temporary Magistrates and two Deputy Judges from the private practice at any given time for the remainder of 1997-98.
7.The increased expenditure on payment of honorarium to Temporary Magistrates and Deputy Judges is more than offset by savings in salaries arising from the vacant posts. In money terms, for 1997-98, the unfilled vacancies have so far resulted in savings of about $26 million in salaries and $53 million in total staff cost. However, in terms of financial control, we cannot offset excess expenditure under a Departmental Expenses subhead (in this case Subhead 111 Hire of services and professional fees) exceeding the Secretary for the Treasury's delegated authority of $10 million even if there are sufficient savings in another subhead. We need the Finance Committee's approval.
Audio Recording and Transcript Production Service
8.The estimated additional expenditure of $10,065,000 in 1997-98 for the audio recording and transcript production service is to meet increased requirement as a result of the full implementation of audio recording and transcription services in courts. We now produce transcripts, in Chinese or English, according to the language used in the trials. The cost of producing Chinese transcripts per page is about twice that of English transcripts. We based our original estimates on the volume of Chinese and English transcripts on the findings made in the pilot schemes of providing audio recording and transcription services in the District Court and the Magistracies prior to the implementation of the full scheme. We now find that although the actual volume of English transcripts produced stays close to our original estimate, the volume of Chinese transcripts required to be produced has grown very significantly. This is due to the rapid increase in the use of Chinese in trials in the District Court, Magistracies and the tribunals. The following table shows the increased demand for Chinese transcripts in the District Court, Magistracies and the tribunals -
|Actual production in 1996-97||418
|Original estimate for 1997-98 (made in May 1995)||933
|Actual production in 1st half of 1997-98||2 115
|Estimated demand in 2nd half of 1997-98||3 000
In order to meet the cost of producing the increased volume of Chinese transcripts, we will require an additional provision of $2.8 million in 1997-98.
9.Moreover, the 1997-98 provision allowed for transcript production service has not included provision required to support the extension of the audio recording and transcription services to the High Court. This extension project was approved by the Finance Committee on 31 January 1997. It will be implemented during 1997-98 and requires an additional provision of $7,265,000.
10.If Members approve the proposal, we shall offset the supplementary provision of $21,486,000 required by deleting an equivalent amount under Head 106 Miscellaneous Services Subhead 251 Additional commitments.
11.From time to time, we make temporary judicial appointments to meet the operational needs of the courts and/or to provide lawyers in private practice an opportunity to sit as Temporary Magistrates or Deputy Judges so that we may assess their suitability for permanent judicial appointments. This arrangement is important because the security of tenure for judges and the prohibition on them to return to private practice means that both the Judiciary and individual candidates have to be certain of appointees' suitability for the bench. We pay these temporary appointees an honorarium on a daily basis. The Finance Committee last approved the rates of honorarium on 1 December 1995 and delegated the authority to the Secretary for the Treasury to approve future annual adjustments in accordance with the movement in the Composite Consumer Price Index.
12.One of the Judiciary's declared policy commitments to serve the community better is to provide a fully bilingual court reporting system through the introduction, in phases, of digital audio recording and transcription services in courts. We have implemented this initiative first in the District Courts (Phase I), then in the Magistracies (Phase II), Tribunals (Phase III) and eventually the High Court (Phase IV). The services are now available in 169 courts at all levels. Another 13 more courts in the High Court will be covered upon full implementation of the final phase.