Legal body no old boys' club
I REFER to your articles entitled 'Aiding and abetting' and 'Legislators to query legal case allocation' (Sunday Morning Post, December 11). It is suggested in those articles that: The Legal Department unnecessarily allocates cases to counsel in private practice.
When the Legal Department does brief-out cases, former employees are more likely to be briefed than others.
Cases are briefed to expatriate ex-Crown counsel who have left the department as a result of localisation. It is suggested that this is done to sidestep some of the effects of the localisation policy.
Briefing out of prosecutions to counsel at the private bar is not a recent innovation but has been an integral aspect of the criminal justice system in Hong Kong since 1963. Its purpose is to deal with the department's fluctuating caseload, and it provides an opportunity for fiat counsel to gain experience in prosecution and defence. Most of the cases are handled by Legal Department counsel. A case will not be briefed out unless certain criteria are met, such as there being no in-house counsel available, or there being a need for expert assistance not available in the department.
When selecting private counsel, we approach lawyers on our briefing-out lists with reference to the level of court and on the basis of rotation and availability. No favouritism or bias is exercised in the compilation of the briefing-out lists, or in the selection of counsel.
When counsel are briefed to prosecute on fiat, they are paid according to the scale fees irrespective of whether they have worked for the department. In special cases, different rates will be paid, depending on their complexity.
Your articles suggested ex-Crown counsel are often allowed to take cases with them when they leave. This might happen if the counsel has been handling the case for such a time that briefing a new counsel would not be practical or economical. I hope this will clarify some of the queries the articles raised. PETER NGUYEN Director of Public Prosecutions