Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1284
[These minutes have been
seen by the Administration]


Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 9 February 1998 at 2:30 pm in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP (Chairman)
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Members absent :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon TSANG Yok-sing
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP

Public officers attending :

Item II

Department of Justice

Mr Stephen LAM
Director of Administration and Development

Deputy Director (Administration)

Item IIIa

Department of Justice

Law Officer (Civil Law)

Mr Stephen LAM
Director of Administration and Development

Deputy Director (Administration)

Item IIIb

Department of Justice

Mr Stephen LAM
Director of Administration and Development

Deputy Director (Administration)

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (Sub-Division III)

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4

Staff in attendance :

Ms Joanne MAK Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4

I.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

1.The Chairman informed members that the next meeting would be held on 9 March 1998 at 4:30 pm.

2.As no member had suggested any items for discussion at the next meeting, the Chairman requested members to let the Clerk know if they had any suggestions after the meeting.


3.The Chairman informed members that the Subcommittee on subsidiary legislation relating to Legislative Council election (the Subcommittee) had referred the subject of a special court for handling election petitions to this Panel and the Constitutional Affairs Panel for consideration. He consulted members' views on how to take the issue forward. In response, Mr Bruce LIU said that the Subcommittee had already agreed that election petitions should be dealt with as civil litigation. As the relevant rules and procedures governing such litigation were already in place, he considered it unnecessary for this Panel to further discuss the matter. In addition, he was personally against the idea of setting up a special court for handling election petitions which, he considered, was neither cost-effective nor necessary. He also noted that the court had the discretion of expediting hearings of election petitions if the relevant documents were made ready by parties concerned.

4.Mr WONG Siu-yee said that he had no special view as to whether or not a special court should be set up for handling election petitions. However, he considered that there were some practical problems pertaining to the implementation of the Legislative Council (Election Petition) Rules (the Rules). One of the problems was that the Police or the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which would be conducting investigations for election petitions, were actually responsible for investigations of criminal cases and they were not subject to any time constraints in their investigations. However, the time allowed for election petitions was only two months. Therefore, there were conflicts in the time frames. In addition, the stipulation in the Rules that election petitions were to be handled by a civil court was itself problematic because the judge was bound to adopt a criminal viewpoint in passing the sentence. He considered that the Rules should be examined to avoid any problems which might arise and to avoid making election petitions too costly.

5.Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung expressed support for discussing this issue. The Chairman agreed and suggested that members of the Constitutional Affairs Panel should be invited to join the discussion.

6.The Chairman informed members that the Panel would make a report on its work to the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of PLC. In this connection, a draft report would be prepared for members' comments at the next meeting.

II. Progress of Localisation in the Department of Justice
[Paper No. CB(2)957(01)]

7.With reference to the Administration's paper, the Director of Administration and Development (D of AD) highlighted that the Department of Justice had implemented three localisation schemes over the past nine years. Under these schemes, officers at the ranks of Government Counsel (GC), Senior Government Counsel (SGC) and Deputy Principal Government Counsel (DPGC) had been groomed to undertake higher responsibilities. D of AD said that, as set out in the paper, the Department of Justice had made significant progress with the localisation programme, achieving 80% localisation for the GC grade as a whole and 50% localisation for the directorate GC posts. D of AD said that by the end of March 1998, the supernumerary GC/SGC/DPGC posts created under the three localisation schemes would lapse. After that, the Department would be able to build on this firm foundation and continue to monitor closely the career development needs of the GC grade staff as well as train up those with demonstrated potential for higher responsibilities.

8.Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung enquired whether the Department of Justice had set any targets for the rates of localisation for the GC grade and the directorate ranks. In response, D of AD said that the Department of Justice did not have a rigid schedule or any set targets for the localisation programme. Rather, it would adopt a gradual approach and promote staff based on their experience and abilities.

9.Mr Kennedy WONG noted that the percentage of local strength at the DPGC and PGC ranks were only 50% and 63.6% respectively, which were on the low side as compared with the 80% localisation achieved for the GC grade as a whole. He enquired if the Department of Justice would consider open recruitment to fill vacancies at these directorate ranks as had been done by the Judiciary which had accepted direct entry of senior counsel from the private sector. In response, D of AD said that there had been substantial improvement in the localisation rates at the directorate ranks as their local strength was only some 10% when the localisation programme was introduced. He said that when there was a vacancy in the Department, eligible staff within the Department, as well as those from other related government departments in the area of law (such as the Legal Aid Department), could apply. The Deputy Director (Administration) (DD(A)) supplemented that open recruitment exercise had been conducted for SGC vacancies with a few candidates found suitable for appointment. However, another open recruitment exercise conducted for directorate GC posts some years ago was not so successful. He added that the localisation of the GC grade had been achieved in the following ways -

  1. open recruitment exercise was conducted on a need basis;

  2. arrangements were made as far as possible to groom internal staff with demonstrated potential to fill vacancies of senior posts; and

  3. directorate posts had been filled by inviting applications from government departments related to legal matters.

10.Mr Kennedy WONG pointed out that there had been an increased supply of solicitors/barristers in the market with the business downturn in the private sector and there might be experienced counsel willing to consider joining government service. In response, D of AD clarified that the existing human resources policy of the Department of Justice did not rule out open recruitment. However, it would first try to identify suitable staff within the Department or other related government departments before it went for open recruitment. He pointed out that some of the directorate GC posts had been filled by expatriate staff and therefore could not be localised until the expiry of their contracts. D of AD reiterated that as an on-going exercise, the Department would promote localisation by enhancing the professional development of staff and providing management training to strengthen their administrative abilities.

11.In reply to Mrs Elsie TU's enquiries, D of AD said that the total establishment of the Department of Justice exceeded 1,000 staff. In terms of colleagues in the GC grade, DD(A) clarified that according to the comparison in the paper, the total strength and local strength in respect of directorate ranks were 63 and 33 respectively. At the non-directorate level, the total strength and local strength at SGC rank were 144 / 119 respectively. As for the GC rank, the total strength was 65 and the Department had achieved 100% localisation at this rank. In response to Mrs TU's further enquiry, DD(A) said that, in recruitment exercises, preference was given to local candidates. D of AD added that the Department had a very good selection of young graduates every year and there were hundreds of applicants applying for the GC grade vacancies.

III. Creation/retention of posts in the Department of Justice

a. Creation of one Supernumerary DPGC post and one permanent DPGC post in the Civil Division
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 957 (02) )

12.The Law Officer (Civil Law) (LO(CL)) made one correction to paragraph 18 of the Administration's paper and clarified that the Lands and Works Unit of the Civil Division comprised one DPGC instead of two.

13.Mr Bruce LIU noted that the provision of an additional DPGC post to the Civil Litigation Unit would improve the ratio of DPGC to SGC/GC to 1:8.7. He enquired whether this ratio would be considered as good compared with other Divisions. In response, LO(CL) said that it was difficult to compare such ratios with different Divisions. However, taking the Civil Division as an example, this ratio was not as good as those of the other Units such as the Advisory Unit but would be comparable to those in the Lands and Works Unit and the Commercial Unit.

14.Mr Bruce LIU referred to Enclosure 10 of the Administration's paper and enquired about the staffing situation in the Litigation Unit after the transfer of one DPGC to the Works Bureau on 1 October 1998. In response, LO(CL) said that the number of the remaining DPGC would then be three and there would be an increase in the number of SGC/GC supervised by each of the DPGCs.

15.Mr Kennedy WONG enquired about the nature of the debt collection cases which had increased substantially from 1993 to 1997 and the reasons for the increases. In reply, LO(CL) said that a number of the cases related to rates, and the number of such cases would peak after rate reviews. This explained why there was a major increase in 1996. He said that the Debt Collection Sub-Unit was also responsible for collecting debts on behalf of the government for cases related to traffic accidents and stamp duty. The Sub-Unit also recovered for the government the building costs it incurred in carrying out work to remedy defective buildings.

16.Mr Kennedy WONG noted that as the caseload of the Sub-Unit was quite fluctuating decreasing from some 3,000 cases in 1996 to some 2,500 cases in 1997, he questioned whether it was necessary to create a permanent DPGC post. He suggested that creation of a supernumerary post might be more suitable in this case as there were ups and downs in terms of the caseload.

17.In response, LO(CL) said that although there were fluctuations in the figures, a clear upward trend was shown from 1992 to 1997 in terms of the workload statistics. D of AD added that that caseload of the Civil Litigation Unit had increased by over 60% without any increase in directorate counsel posts in the Unit. Moreover, he anticipated that the workload would be on the rise due to enhanced transparency of the Government and the fact that legal awareness of the public was ever-increasing.

18.Mrs Elsie TU enquired whether the volume of workload would decline as litigation in relation to Vietnamese immigration appeals would cease. In response, LO(CL) said that these Vietnamese cases had been dealt with by having a supernumerary post which had been approved by the PLC Establishment Subcommittee to be effective until June/July 1998. In fact, the volume of litigation involving Vietnamese cases had decreased over the past six months. The staffing proposal under discussion had taken into account this point already.

b. Retention of a Consultancy position (DL2 level) for the period from 1 July 1998 to 17 August 1999 in the Prosecutions Division
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 957 (03) )

19.Mr Bruce LIU noted that the Secretary for Justice did not recommend the alternative of briefing out the World Trade Centre (WTC) case because higher cost would be involved. However, in view of the keen competition in the private sector now, Mr Bruce LIU enquired whether it was possible for the government, without lowering the quality of service, to bring in counsel at a lower brief fee than the estimated amount given in the paper. In reply, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (Sub-Division III) (DD(PP)) said that the brief fee suggested in the paper was a very reasonable amount. He did not believe that counsel with the specialist experience required for handling the WTC case would be available in the market at a lower cost. He also pointed out that the trial period of the WTC case could be further lengthened by a number of factors which would then increase the brief cost -

  1. whether or not the defendants had legal representation; and

  2. if the defendants were convicted, whether or not they would lodge appeals and the listing time for hearing of the appeals.

20.In response to Mr Bruce LIU's enquiries, DD(PP) said that if approval was given to this staffing proposal, the post would be filled by the specialist consultant who had been in the post since 1 July 1997 to conduct the prosecution.

21. D of AD thanked for members' support for the staffing proposals discussed above.

21.The meeting ended at 3:30 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
21 March 1998