Pledge fails to impress
By ANGELA LI
THE Legal Aid Department's pledge to fill in applicants' forms within an hour failed to impress legislators yesterday after it was revealed there were no guarantees on quick processing.
Director of Legal Aid Lady Pauline Cheung Cheng Po-lin said the staff usually took about 20 minutes to fill in the forms.
But legislators were dissatisfied that in December, the backlog of applications received a year ago and pending a decision was 690. This represented about 3.2 per cent of applications received by the department in the past 12 months.
The backlog included 207 personal injury cases and 51 matrimonial cases, legislators were told.
Out of the 261 miscellaneous cases, Lady Cheung said 224 involved Vietnamese boat people who had been waiting for more than a year to see whether they could be represented by legal aid lawyers in judicial reviews.
The delay met with criticism from Democratic Party legislator Martin Lee Chu-ming, who said: 'A waiting time of six months would be too long, not to mention one year.' Independent legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who chaired the Legco panel on administration of justice and legal services, said:'Justice delayed is justice denied. The same applies to legal aid.' But the department's policy and administration co-ordinator Lolly Chiu Yuen-chu said: 'Given the fact each of our officers in the processing section carries, on average, 910 files for processing and monitoring, I must say that the present state is not wholly unsatisfactory.' Lady Cheung expected the backlog of Vietnamese boat people cases to be cleared by the end of this year, as more money would be allocated.
Ms Ng asked Lady Cheung to consider making performance pledges on processing time.