Time spent on work queried

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 1995, 12:00am

THE Legal Department boss of Graham Grant periodically complained about the time the junior counsel took to do aspects of his $3,025-an-hour work, Legislative Councillors heard yesterday.

Clive Grossman, QC, who supervised the work which earned Mr Grant up to $700,000 a month at the taxpayers' expense, said he had been concerned some of the work had 'taken too much time'.

Mr Grant has been at the centre of a furore over millions in fees he has commanded at the private Bar for doing work on the same case he handled for a fraction of the cost while a junior counsel in the Legal Department.

Mr Grossman told the Legco legal services panel yesterday: 'I did query it and I did complain from time to time that it had taken too long.

'And we had disputes about it. There would be aspects of his work when he would charge 50 to 60 hours and I would say: 'Why did it take that long? Why didn't you do it quicker?' 'I was an armchair critic and we were looking over their shoulders all the time,' he said.

But Mr Grossman, who has staunchly defended the massive fees paid to Mr Grant and London silk Clive Nichols for their prosecution of the complex Bumiputra Malaysia Finance Limited case, said the work had to be done.

He said that despite concerns over the time it took Mr Grant to do some of the work, it was decided to take a broader view as 'he was doing a successful job for us'.

He said there was no supervision of Mr Grant 'in the sense of a physical oversight to ensure that he worked the hours claimed' as this would have been an absurd waste of resources and an unacceptable arrangement.

'We accepted his word,' said Mr Grossman, adding that Mr Grant's fee notes were sent in every few months and contained a 'wealth of detail' for every day of work.

Mr Grossman, also now at the private Bar, volunteered to brief legislators and said he took responsibility as former head of the department's Commercial Crime Unit for approving and signing many of Mr Grant's fee notes.

Explaining the decision to give the case to Mr Grant when he went to the Bar, Mr Grossman said: 'We were aware that this would be a very unpopular job within the department, requiring a workaholic like Mr Grant.

'A person with exceptional stamina and a person prepared, as Mr Grant was, to spend long periods away from his or her family.' Mr Grant, who charged up to 18 hours a day and received more than $17 million in 33 months, has had his fees capped by the Director of Public Prosecutions Peter Nguyen since the South China Morning Post highlighted the matter.

Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews has asked for an internal audit into circumstances surrounding the Grant case, while Director of Audit Brian Jenney is supervising an inquiry into Legal Department briefing-out systems.

Mr Grossman told legislators that Mr Grant was not indispensable, but he was 'the best man for the job'.

'At the end of the day we simply did not have a choice,' he said, adding he and the then prosecutions director, John Wood, continually examined ways of trimming costs.

Panel chairman Simon Ip Sik-on questioned whether there had been a lack of proper planning.

Independent Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said after the panel meeting that she was not satisfied with all of what she described as Mr Grossman's excuses.

Panel members intend to question Mr Mathews at a fourth hearing into the matter next month after he has released the Legal Department audit report.