Report of the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services for submission to the Provisional Legislative Council
This report gives an account of the work of the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services during the term of the Provisional Legislative Council. It will be tabled at the meeting of the Council on 1 April 1998 in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Council.
2. The Panel was formed by resolution of this Council on 16 July 1997 for the purpose of monitoring and examining Government policies and issues of public concern relating to administration of justice and legal services matters. The terms of reference of the Panel are in Appendix I.
3. The Panel comprises 11 members. Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen and Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho were elected Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Panel respectively. The membership list of the Panel is in Appendix II.
Relocation of the Family Court
4. In September 1997 the Panel discussed with the Judiciary Administrator the relocation of the Family Court from the High Court Building to the Wanchai Law Court Building. In view of the concerns of family law practitioners, representatives of the Law Society of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Family Law Association and Family Mediation Committee were invited to present their views. Members were briefed on the background of the relocation, the proposed layout of the Family Court and plans for improving the Family Court facilities. At the end of the discussion, the Judiciary Administrator agreed to seek further improvements after the relocation.
Use of Chinese in courts
5. The Panel also discussed with the Administration the implementation of the use of Chinese in courts and the resources available for this programme. Members noted that the Department of Justice had produced authentic Chinese texts for all legislation enacted in English only and that all new legislation was now drafted in both official languages. They also noted that the Judiciary had already put in place a bilingual court system, in which either or both of the Chinese and English languages could be used in courts. To help judges to accustom themselves to using Chinese in courts and to assess the adequacy of Chinese summing-ups in jury trials in the High Court, the Judiciary had conducted a series of mock trials. In addition, the Judiciary had compiled a Glossary of Legal Expressions to facilitate the use of Chinese in courts. The Department of Justice had organized training courses for government lawyers on the subject and published English-Chinese glossaries of legal terms to provide judges and judicial officers with a practical tool for use in Chinese trials. In January 1998, the Panel was briefed on the setting up of a Committee on Bilingual Legal System in Hong Kong to oversee and facilitate the implementation of the policy of bilingualism in the legal system.
Legal Aid Policy Review
6. Following the publication of a consultation paper on Legal Aid Policy Review 1997 on 16 December 1997 for public views and comments, the Panel discussed the paper with the Administration in January 1998. Members noted that the Administration was committed to conducting a review every five years to consider whether any changes should be made to the criteria used for assessing the financial eligibility of legal aid applicants. Members raised a number of queries regarding the new method of computing disposable income and the coverage of the standard legal aid scheme for which clarifications were provided by the Administration.
Progress of localisation in the Department of Justice
7. In February 1998, the Panel was briefed on the progress of localisation in the Department of Justice. Members noted that with the help of three special localisation schemes, the Department had made significant progress with localisation in the last nine years. With the introduction of the Legal Trainee Scheme in 1993 and successful local recruitment, the Department had achieved 100% localisation at the Government Counsel rank since October 1995. Taking the Government Counsel grade as a whole , the Department had achieved 80% localisation as at 1 January 1998. Some members observed that the percentage of local strength at the Deputy Principal Government Counsel rank was still rather low at 50% and suggested recruitment from the private sector be considered. The Administration explained that while it did not rule out open recruitment, it would first consider promotion of staff within the civil service. As an on-going exercise, the Department of Justice would continue to groom those Government Counsel grade staff with demonstrated potential for higher responsibilities by providing local and overseas training and other career development opportunities to realise their potential.
Other matters discussed
8. The Panel was also briefed on the implementation of the Legal Services Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Ordinance 1997 and the adaptation of laws programme. In addition, it was consulted on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 1997 and a total of 10 proposals for creation/retention of directorate posts in the Department of Justice and the Legal Aid Department.
9. From July 1997 to March 1998, the Panel held a total of eight meetings.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
4 March 1998