Apology for fiasco at divorce hearing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 1996, 12:00am

A man sat outside court unaware a judge was granting his divorce and awarding custody of his daughter to his wife, because a clerk had not called his name.

The ombudsman, Andrew So Kwok-wing, said yesterday he was upholding the man's complaint against the Judiciary, which is to apologise for the blunder.

As compensation, Supreme Court Registrar Julian Betts has offered to waive court fees if the man wants to seek an order varying the terms of the custody agreement.

However, the man would still have to pay his own legal costs.

The case was published yesterday without any names being revealed by Mr So.

He said a similar complaint had been upheld in 1991 and the Judiciary had promised to prevent it happening again by issuing regular circulars outlining proper procedures to the judge's clerks - but it had not done so.

'This is not an isolated incident,' he said.

The man's wife had filed for divorce in the District Court last August, and the man was notified of a hearing in one of the two Family Courts on the 14th floor of the Supreme Court building on a date in November at 9.30 am.

As the court number was only decided two days before the hearing, the notice did not say which court he should attend.

The man arrived at 9 am and waited outside the courts. Because most cases were believed to be uncontested the judge's clerk did not call the name when the case came up and the man lost his chance to be heard.

He asked what was happening to his case at 10.30 am and was told it was over.

Judiciary spokesman Lam Yuk-ling said: 'We will issue a letter of apology to him.' Clerks have been instructed to shout out names to those waiting outside court. The notification letter sent out in divorce cases says parties should look at notice boards or contact the information counter to find out which court to attend.

Sharon Ser, a partner in Hampton, Winter and Glynn, said that better notification procedures were a good idea for busy days.

'There are a lot of people milling around the courts - about 20 or 30 people at least. A lot of solicitors in their black robes.

'It's confusing if you don't know what's happening,' she said.