Bid to lower legal costs
By CHRIS YEUNG and SO LAI-FUN
THE Government is to propose scrapping the existing guidelines on legal fees adopted by the profession to help lower charges, amid complaints about overcharging, it was learned yesterday.
The proposal is contained in a comprehensive consultative paper on legal services compiled by the Legal Department and scheduled to be published for consultation tomorrow.
According to sources, the paper will be discussed and endorsed by the Executive Council today.
Legal Department officials will brief the Legislative Council's administration of justice and legal services panel tomorrow.
The public will be urged to give their views during a three-month consultation.
In addition to the much-publicised lawyers' fees, the lengthy paper will deal with controversial issues including the amalgamation of barristers and solicitors and conveyancing.
An informed source said the Government hoped to 'drive down charges' through more competition.
The administration is adamant consumers should be given more protection and more choice, another source said.
Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews told legislators earlier this month the idea was to improve the quality and standard of professional services, adding that many practices were obsolescent, restrictive and non-competitive and 'may not be in the public interest'.
A source said: 'The idea is to rationalise the provision of legal services', but stressed that they did not anticipate major controversy.
The source said the Government would reaffirm the existing policy of conveyancing despite calls to scrap the monopoly of solicitors in handling property transactions, opening the work to other qualified professionals in a bid to lower charges.
The source said barristers would also heave 'a sigh of relief' as the government was to reject calls to merge the two streams of the legal profession.
Meanwhile, the Bar Council has started active lobbying with political parties to reject the Supreme Court Amendment Bill, which allows solicitors with 10 years' experience to be appointed to the High Court bench.
However, Law Society president Roderick Woo Bun, in a letter seeking members' support, said: 'The bill will put right a wrong which has been allowed to exist for too long.'