Major urged to restore trust in legal system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 September, 1996, 12:00am

Prime Minister John Major has been asked to appoint an English High Court judge to conduct an inquiry into allegations of judicial misconduct and meddling in Hong Kong.

Barrister Paul Harris has sent a letter to 10 Downing Street complaining the Governor has not responded to his request for a formal investigation.

The request comes as legislators prepare to discuss their concerns at a panel meeting on Tuesday.

The letter, headed 'Independence of the Judiciary in Hong Kong', called on the Prime Minister to take action that would restore public confidence in the territory's legal system.

Concerns have been raised by lawyers and legislators over claims made by Judge Brian Caird, who was presiding over the trial of alleged fraudster Aaron Nattrass.

He alleged two other judges, Clare Beeson and Richard Hawkes, tried to interfere in his handling of the New Zealander's trial.

Judge Caird later retracted the claims and withdrew from the case on medical grounds.

A secret judiciary inquiry cleared both judges of applying pressure and said Judge Caird had magnified the importance of social conversations while suffering from insomnia.

The explanation has been branded bizarre and unsatisfactory.

Mr Harris, defending Nattrass, wrote to Mr Patten almost two weeks ago asking him to order a formal inquiry.

In his letter to Mr Major, the barrister says: 'The Governor has not seen fit to acknowledge or reply to the letter.' He sets out the background to the affair and asks the Prime Minister to order the Governor to set up a tribunal headed by an English High Court judge or someone of similar experience and standing.

'Such a tribunal is necessary to restore confidence in the integrity of the judicial system here, which is a matter of particular importance in view of the impending transfer of sovereignty,' Mr Harris says in the letter.

He enclosed a copy of a letter published in the South China Morning Post in which lawyer and legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee raised concerns over the Judge Caird affair.

Legislators have asked Judiciary Administrator Alice Tai Yuen-ying to deal with questions not answered by the internal inquiry.

Ms Ng said she hoped the Judiciary would be able to respond in time for next week's legal panel meeting.

She stressed it would be difficult for the Legislative Council to investigate fully the affair because it had no power over judges.

The Governor's spokesman, Kerry McGlynn, said that Mr Patten was still considering the request for an inquiry and would give Mr Harris a response as soon as possible.

The trial is due to restart next year.