LC Paper No. ESC46 /98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/F/3/2

Establishment Subcommittee of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council
Minutes of the seventh meeting held at the Legislative Council Chamber on Wednesday, 10 February 1999, at 10:45 am

Members present :

Hon NG Leung-sing (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members absent :

Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong (Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon David LI Kwok-po, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon CHAN Kwok-keung
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung

Public officers attending :

Mrs Carrie LAM, JP
Deputy Secretary for the Treasury

Deputy Secretary for the Civil Service

Mr Patrick LAU, JP
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands

Mr Richard LUK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands

Mrs June LI
Assistant Director of Planning

Mr I Grenville CROSS
Director of Public Prosecutions

Deputy Director (Administration)
Department of Justice

Mr Arthur LUK
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions

Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions

Ms Alice TAI, JP
Judiciary Administrator

Mr Kevin HO, JP
Deputy Secretary for Transport

Mr LEUNG Kwok-sun, JP
Director of Highways

Mr MAK Chai-kwong
Government Engineer/Railway Development
Highways Department

Clerk in attendance :

Ms LEUNG Siu-kam
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)2

Staff in attendance :

Ms Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1

Ms Anita SIT
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)8
EC(98-99)23Proposed retention of two supernumerary posts of one Government Town Planner (D2) and one Chief Town Planner (D1) in the Planning Department from 21 March 1999 to the date of the dissolution of the Land Development Corporation or 30 June 2000, whichever is the earlier, to cope with the workload associated with the urban renewal initiatives and projects of the Land Development Corporation

Regarding the target of completing the planning procedures within 18 months for the Land Development Corporation (LDC) projects, the Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (DS/PEL) advised that it had not included extra time needed to tackle special complications that might arise in the planning process. The slippage of the six LDC development schemes being processed under the streamlined procedures was attributable mainly to the longer time required by LDC to prepare the development scheme plans after initial approval by the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau (PELB). As the property market went down in late 1997, LDC encountered great difficulty in finding interested private developers to take part in its development schemes and the schedule for completing the development scheme plans had to be adjusted from the original six weeks to four to eight months. DS/PEL nevertheless anticipated at this stage that each of these six schemes would require a total of 23 to 30 months to complete the procedures, a saving of 14 to 21 months when compared to the average processing time before the adoption of the streamlined procedures.

2. DS/PEL also pointed out that apart from the property market factor which would affect private developers' interest in redevelopment schemes, there were other factors which were also beyond the control of the Administration and LDC but would affect the processing time. An example was the time period for handling objections to gazetted development scheme plan. Under the Town Planning Ordinance, the Chief Executive had the authority to extend the objection handling period of nine months by another six months when the situation warranted. Such an extension was not included in the aforesaid 18-month schedule. Upon members’ request, DS/PEL undertook to provide further information, before the meeting of the Finance Committee to consider this item, on the 18-month schedule under the streamlined procedures for members' reference.


3. Addressing Miss Emily LAU's concern about the pace of urban renewal and the approach for future urban renewal projects given the uncertainties of the property market, DS/PEL affirmed the Government's commitment to timely urban renewal to enhance the living environment of the community. He advised that apart from the property market factor which was subject to fluctuation, private developers were getting less interested in redevelopment projects since the number of low-rise old buildings in the territory was decreasing. Private developers would now prefer purchasing land on which development could take place instantly. In view of this trend, the Government would probably need to take on a more active role, particularly with regard to financing, in urban renewal. Notwithstanding the difficulty, urban renewal with private sector's participation would remain the preferred option.

4. DS/PEL further advised that given Government's commitment to speeding up urban renewal, the input from the Planning Department would be essential in order to facilitate implementation of urban renewal schemes within the statutory planning framework and relevant legislation. As far as the present proposal was concerned, the Urban Renewal Division was currently processing a total of 38 LDC schemes and was conducting the "Urban Renewal Strategy Study". Upon completion of this study, the division would proceed to conduct follow-up studies which would enable the future Urban Renewal Authority (URA) to draw up development scheme plans right upon its establishment. In the interim period leading to the full establishment of URA, these work requirements would continue to require the input of the Government Town Planner and Chief Town Planner in question.

5. The item was voted on and endorsed.

EC(98-99)19Proposed creation of one permanent post of Principal Government Counsel (DL3) in the Prosecutions Division of the Department of Justice to head a new Sub-division and to deal with the Court of Final Appeal and related cases

6. Members noted that this proposal had been discussed at the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services (AJLS).

7. Miss Margaret NG expressed support for the proposal on account of the burgeoning number of petitions and appeals in criminal cases to the Court of Final Appeal (CFA). She also echoed the view set out in the discussion paper that the decisions of the CFA had significant implications for the legal system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and thus the Administration must ensure that the quality of the Government's representation in CFA cases should be of the appropriate level and the right calibre.

8. In response to Miss NG's view that the quality and level of representation appropriate to the case should be the most important consideration for deciding whether a CFA case should be conducted in-house or briefed out to private counsel, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) advised that cases would be briefed out when the necessary expertise was not available in-house or when staff strength was insufficient to cope with the workload. While agreeing with Miss NG's view, DPP advised that in practice, such a decision on whether any in-house counsel possessed the necessary expertise would be a matter of judgement. He added that the aspects of cost-effectiveness and value-for-money would also be relevant considerations when deciding on whether a case should be briefed out.

9. Addressing Miss Emily LAU's concern on the quality of private counsel hired, DPP advised that mechanisms were in place to ensure the right level of representation for each case. Department of Justice maintained briefing-out lists of private counsel and solicitors for the various levels of courts and for cases of different degree of complexity. Private counsel and solicitors were invited to apply for entry into the lists on a regular basis and their credentials were vetted by a selection board for placing onto the appropriate lists. The system also allowed private counsel and solicitors placed on the lists for the lower levels of courts to progress to the lists for the higher levels based on past performance in briefing-out cases. As regards the monitoring of performance of private counsel on the lists, the Department would invoke the established mechanism to remove or suspend the counsel concerned from the lists if complaints against their performance had been found justified after thorough investigation.

10. As far as the proposed Principal Government Counsel (PGC) post was concerned, DPP advised that while the PGC would appear on a regular basis in difficult and complex cases, he would not conduct each and every CFA case himself. His primary functions would also be to supervise and to advise other in-house counsel and private counsel on relevant procedures, to provide the necessary co-ordination and to build up a pool of in-house expertise for CFA cases.

11. As regards the present situation which was considered unsatisfactory, DPP advised that presently, counsel in various units of the Public Prosecutions Division were deployed from their existing duties to handle CFA and CFA-related cases on an ad hoc basis. As CFA and CFA-related work would normally take precedence over other areas and given the burgeoning number of CFA cases since July 1997, it had come to light that the present deployment arrangement had seriously affected other areas of work of the Division.

12. The item was voted on and endorsed.

EC(98-99)24 Proposed revision of the pay scale of the Special Magistrate grade from $56,540 - $59,325 to $56,540 - $66,800; and the designation of specific pay points for the Judicial Service Pay Scale

13. Miss Margaret NG informed the meeting that this proposal had been discussed by the AJLS Panel, and Panel members generally were in support of the proposal.

14. In reply to Miss Emily LAU, the Judiciary Administrator (JA) advised that there had been a few applications received from legally qualified persons in each recruitment exercise of Special Magistrates (SM) in recent years. While the Judiciary was more inclined to appoint legally qualified persons as SM, the availability of legally qualified candidates for such appointments was somehow beyond the Judiciary's control. Hence, it was considered not appropriate to set a target percentage of legally qualified SM appointees, but it was reckoned that the offer of a higher entry salary point for a full legal qualification would serve to attract quality candidates.

15. Addressing Miss Emily LAU's concern about the gradual relaxation of the age requirement for appointment as SM, JA explained that the age requirement was gradually relaxed due to the lack of mature and experienced local candidates and was subsequently dropped in 1995 to avoid possible age discrimination. She however stressed that all along, most new appointees to the SM grade had more than 10 years' relevant experience, and the proposed new entry qualification, i.e. a full legal qualification as a Barrister or qualified solicitor and five years' relevant working experience, was on par with the existing entry qualification of Magistrates.

16. Miss Margaret NG expressed support for the policy of appointing legally qualified persons as SM in future, and pointed out that this was a right move to enhance the quality of magisterial work so as to meet the present-day requirements. She suggested that this approach of offering a higher salary point to appointees with higher levels of qualification should be suitably extended to other civil service grades where there was a genuine need to appoint higher quality candidates to meet present-day requirements. She reiterated her concern that the Court Prosecutor (CP) grade in the Department of Justice should also move towards professionalism by appointing legally qualified persons as CP to improve court prosecution work. In response, the Deputy Secretary for the Civil Service (DS/CS) advised that some civil service grades were allowed to offer different entry salary points to new appointees with different levels of qualification. He explained that it was up to the relevant grade management to decide which type of candidates to be recruited into a grade and whether it was appropriate to reflect different levels of qualification in the grade's pay scale. The Civil Service Bureau (CSB) considered it appropriate to allow flexibility for the grade management in this regard.

17. The item was voted on and endorsed.

EC(98-99)25 Proposed -
  1. creation of a new rank of Deputy Registrar, High Court ($127,900 - $135,550);

  • consequent retitling of the existing rank of Deputy Registrar, High Court ($136,400 - $144,750) to Senior Deputy Registrar, High Court; and
  • creation of five permanent posts of Deputy Registrar, High Court ($127,900 - $135,550) to be offset by the deletion of two permanent posts of Senior Deputy Registrar, High Court ($136,400 - $144,750) in the Judiciary
  • 18. Members noted that this proposal had been discussed by the AJLS Panel.

    19. In response to Mr Michael HO's comment that the Chinese title of the proposed Senior Deputy Registrar, High Court (SDR/HC) post was too long, JA said that as this post title was derived from the title of Registrar, High Court which was prescribed in the law, it might be difficult to shorten the Chinese title of SDR/HC. She nevertheless undertook to examine such feasibility.

    20. As regards the basis for defining the respective levels of responsibilities of the SDR/HC post and the Deputy Registrar, High Court (DR/HC) post, JA advised that the duties of Masters could be differentiated based on work complexity, the level of supervision and case management technique required. SDR/HC would undertake those judicial duties that were more complicated and/or might have significant legal implications while DR/HC would take on the bulk of routine judicial duties. On case management, SDR/HC would be required to keep pace with international developments and to adopt new technique to the local context, and be responsible for the supervision, development and expansion of case management for various areas of civil litigation, while DR/HC would undertake the case management work in the Personal Injuries List and other areas for which effective case management would be developed.

    21. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong recalled that Members of the former Legislative Council had expressed grave concern about the deployment of Judges, having regard to the then scheduling of working time of Judges. Against this background, he pointed out that to enable members to assess whether the proposed new posts were justified, the Judiciary should provide information on the amount and scheduling of working time of Masters, apart from the information on the time required for Master Hearings which had been provided in the discussion paper. Mr CHEUNG's concern was shared by Miss Emily LAU.

    22. In response, JA advised that the number of additional Masters required had been worked out simply on the basis of the average hearing time available from a Master, the average time required to hear a case on various lists and the number of cases on the lists. Apart from hearings, Masters were also responsible for other duties, and the amount of working time devoted to hearings varied between Masters depending on their respective schedules of duties. Besides, it should be reckoned that a Master who spent longer time than other Masters on hearing cases did not necessarily discharge judicial duties more effectively. In view of members' concern, JA agreed to provide, before the meeting of the Finance Committee scheduled to consider this item, information on the working time of Masters.JA

    23. In reply to Miss Emily LAU's enquiry about the absence of a job description for each of the proposed SDR/HC and DR/HC posts , JA advised that unlike most civil service posts, there were no significant functional differences among judicial staff of the same rank. Hence, only a job description for the respective SDR/HC rank and the DR/HC rank was provided.

    24. Noting that the increase in civil cases in recent years was partly due to the recent economic downturn, Miss Emily LAU queried the need to create the proposed three DR/HC posts on a permanent basis. In response, JA advised that while the economic downturn in 1997 had aggravated the increase in workload, there had already been considerable increase in the number of High Court civil cases before then. Having reviewed the situation recently, it was envisaged that the upward trend would continue in the foreseeable future. Coupled with the increase in complexity of pre-hearing and post-hearing work, it was considered necessary to create the DR/HC posts on a permanent basis. She added that to fill a supernumerary post, the Judiciary would need to freeze a post at another level of court and redeploy the incumbent to the supernumerary post, and thus would consequentially affect the operation at another level of court. In this regard, DS/CS advised that heads of bureaux/departments might create supernumerary posts by freezing other posts in the same bureau/department or by seeking approval for additional funds for the creation of these posts. Miss Emily LAU maintained her reservation on the creation of the proposed DR/HC posts on a permanent basis.

    25. In reply to Miss Emily LAU's enquiry about the implications on High Court Judges after SDR/HC and DR/HC in future took on all the case management work in the High Court which was at present carried out by High Court Judges, JA advised that this arrangement would enable High Court Judges to concentrate on case hearing and thus enable the shortening of waiting time for court hearing, particularly for those cases on the Specialist Lists.

    26. Miss Margaret NG conveyed the support of the legal sector for the proposal. She remarked that apart from the increase in the number of High Court cases, the current lack of case management and adequate monitoring of the preparation by the litigation parties before hearings had led to unfairness in case listing and unreasonable delays to legal proceedings. In view of the very unsatisfactory situation at present, the legal sector very much looked upon the strengthening of the Judiciary's resources at the Masters level. She, on the other hand, also urged the Judiciary to ensure that there would be fair distribution of work among Masters.

    27. The item was voted on and endorsed. Pending further information to be provided by JA, Miss Emily LAU, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong and Mr Michael HO recorded their reservation on this item.

    EC(98-99)26 Proposed creation of three supernumerary posts, one Principal Government Engineer (D3) for a period of two years and two Chief Engineers (D1) for a period of six years to head the Railway Development Office and its new Railway Division (2) and Technical Services Division in the Highways Department

    28. On the justifications for the proposed supernumerary posts, the Director of Highways (DHy) advised that the scope and level of responsibilities of the Railway Development Office (RDO) in Highways Department (HyD) had increased considerably as the construction of two railway projects had commenced recently and another three scheduled to commence in one to two years’ time. He remarked that apart from the high priority railway projects, namely, the West Rail Phase I, the Mass Transit Railway Tseung Kwan O Extension, the Ma On Shan to Tai Wai Rail Link and the East Rail Extension to Tsim Sha Tsui, the Government had recently decided to expedite the planning and implementation of the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Rail Spur Line. These five committed railway projects would cost over $120 billion in money-of-the-day prices which was comparable to the project costs of the Airport Core Programme (ACP) projects. On railway planning, upon completion of the Second Railway Development Study (RDS-2) by end of 1999, the RDO would be involved in conducting extensive project feasibility studies and other follow-up work. Moreover, to facilitate the RDS-2 and future railway development planning, HyD would establish a sophisticated computerised railway planning system in the RDO. A new Technical Services Division would be established under the RDO to be dedicated to the setting up and management of this computer system. In view of these developments, it was considered necessary to create a supernumerary Principal Government Engineer (PGE)(D3) post for two years to head the RDO, and two supernumerary Chief Engineer (CE) (D1) posts for six years, one to oversee the planning and implementation of the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line project and the other to head the Technical Services Division.

    29. Addressing the concern about the proposed creation of a substantial number of directorate posts in HyD under this item and the next item EC(98-99)27 of this meeting, Deputy Secretary for the Treasury (DS/Tsy) advised that the majority of project management staff in HyD were project-based. While the Administration was proposing to create new supernumerary posts for the committed railway projects in the pipeline, a number of supernumerary posts created some five to six years ago for the ACP projects had lapsed or would lapse upon completion of the projects. She also pointed out that the scope and level of responsibilities to be shouldered by HyD for the various railway and highway projects as detailed in this proposal and EC(98-99)27 were much heavier than those for the ACP projects.

    30. While expressing support for the approach of creating project specific posts on a supernumerary basis to tie in with the relevant project periods, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed reservation over the need for the proposed supernumerary PGE post. He commented that presently, the RDO was headed by a Government Engineer (D2) and for the past years, the RDO had been overseeing the Airport Railway projects and at the same time involved in the planning of the aforesaid high priority railway projects. He therefore did not consider that there would be substantial increase in the scope and level of responsibilities of the RDO which could justify the creation of a PGE post for two years.

    31. Elaborating on the need for the PGE post, the Deputy Secretary for Transport (DS/T) pointed out that in the next five years, the overall railway network of the territory would expand by some 40% over the existing network. It was envisaged that in the course of the implementation of these mega-scale railway projects, considerable complicated interfacing conflicts with the existing land uses and other development projects would be encountered and the RDO would have an important role in resolving these conflicts. Moreover, the Government would entrust a substantial amount of infrastructure works (costing over $3 billion) to the Kowloon and Canton Railway Corporation in the West Rail Phase I project, and the RDO would need to monitor the execution of these works. More importantly, in the next two years, HyD would be heavily engaged in following up the RDS-2 with a view to drawing up a blue print for the future railway development in the territory. The strategic importance of the railway planning work and the heavy responsibilities on the implementation of the committed railway projects would definitely necessitate a PGE to head the RDO for the coming two years.

    32. DS/T also clarified that the two supernumerary CE posts were proposed to be created for six years to tie in with the duration of the committed projects. Although the work on setting up and managing the computerised transport model was of on-going nature, it was considered appropriate to create the CE/Technical Services post for six years in the first instance and to review the staffing situation following the completion of the committed railway projects.

    33. Dr Raymond HO expressed support for the proposed posts on account of the scale and complexity of the committed railway projects and the fact that the five railway projects would be under construction concurrently in the coming five to six years. He also appreciated the strategic importance of the railway planning work in the next two years and urged the Administration to take the opportunity to develop a pool of in-house expertise in railway planning. In reply to his enquiry about the functions of HyD in monitoring the progress of works, resolving interfacing conflicts and taking part in site liaison of the committed railway projects, the Government Engineer/Railway Development, Highways Department (GE/RD) advised that the Government and the two railway corporations had entered into relevant project agreements which had set out the liaison mechanism at various levels to ensure effective monitoring of the projects by the Government. The RDO would play an active part in the detailed planning of the railway projects to ensure that various interfacing issues between other infrastructure developments and the railway projects would be fully taken into account in the railway implementation plans. As regards site liaison, the RDO would be represented in the site liaison group of each of the committed railway projects to ensure proper implementation of traffic diversion and environmental mitigation measures.

    34. Noting that the establishment of the sophisticated computerised railway planning system was expected to reduce Government expenditure on consultancy services by up to 25%, Miss Emily LAU enquired on how the figure was derived. In reply, GE/RD advised that the 25% was based on the average percentage of consultant's fees for transport modelling and analysis in previous railway studies.

    35. In view of insufficient time for discussion at this meeting, the Chairman instructed that this item and the remaining item EC(98-99)27 would be carried over to the next meeting scheduled for 11 February 1999.

    36. The Subcommittee was adjourned at 1:10 pm.

    Legislative Council Secretariat
    11 March 1999