Bill good for HK

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 1995, 12:00am

I BEGIN by declaring an interest in that I am a solicitor. However, your report (South China Morning Post, July 6) of the attempt by Mr Martin Lee QC to amend the Supreme Court (Amendment) Bill makes ironic reading. Mr Lee believes the basic criterion for eligibility for appointment as a High Court Judge should be a minimum of 10 years' advocacy experience.

Mr Lee is reported as saying that the Government's bill could let sub-standard and inexperienced judges sit in the High Court and is quoted as stating 'the bill introduces a terrible and ever-present risk that the Judicial Services Commission may unwittingly appoint to the High Court an individual who lacks the essential abilities needed to be even a mediocre judge'.

It is interesting to note that on Mr Lee's proposed criterion (which would presumably reduce that 'terrible and ever-present risk'), our current Chief Justice, Sir T. L. Yang, would never have been eligible for appointment to the High Court, let alone become the highest judicial officer in Hong Kong.

He would not, like many others on the Bench, have had the requisite advocacy experience - Sir T. L. was appointed to the High Court following service first as a magistrate and then as a district court judge. The important point is that the bill will increase the pool of those eligible for consideration for appointment to the High Court by setting the eligibility test as 10 years' relevant experience for either barristers or solicitors. It will then be up to the Judicial Services Commission to decide (as it does now) whether or not a candidate is, in all the circumstances, suitable for actual appointment to the Bench.

At a time when the future of the post-1997 judiciary is uncertain and international confidence in it is beginning to be questioned, domestic self-interests should be put aside in order to maintain Hong Kong's current status as the international financial, business and legal centre of the region.

Any proposals which increase the pool of competent talent must surely be encouraged, whilst attempts to limit and restrict an already small source of those able (let alone willing) to sit on the Bench should not be endorsed - fortunately they have not.