Interests of justice

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 1995, 12:00am

THE Legal Aid Department has a big job to do. It must be fair and give help to people who are eligible for legal aid, so no one is denied justice for lack of funds. It must also appoint the lawyers who will represent its clients.

It is not supposed to be influenced by the Government, of which it is part. So it should not be criticised for seeming reluctant to help a convicted killer lodge a second appeal just because the Governor has given him special leave to do so. That would be against the interests of justice - and the department's first aim must be to serve the interests of justice.

Certainly, in the case of Chow Suk-sang, only the fourth man to be granted such a 'Governor's Referral', no one could accuse the department of bending over backwards to help him. True, it has granted him legal aid. It has also appointed lawyers to represent him. But whether it is serving the interests of justice must be judged by the fact these are not the lawyers who have been working on Chow's file, without payment, since 1993 and whom he wishes to re-appoint. It must also be judged by the fact that Chow has felt it necessary to warn he will refuse legal aid unless he can be represented by his existing legal team.

Perhaps there are good reasons for the department's behaviour. It must be assumed it would be as unlikely to go out of its way to thwart Chow's bid to clear his name as to be excessively helpful. Otherwise questions would be asked about whether it is truly impartial.

By a strange coincidence the department itself is the subject of allegations it did not pursue Chow's original trial and appeal forcefully enough. He claims his defence and the police investigation were mishandled.

No doubt, the department is concerned to ensure that, this time, he is represented only by the most competent and forceful team that can be assembled. Those who believe in the justice system will certainly hope so.