Holding back the waves

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 12:00am

For the past decade, the Bar Association has been sitting on the legal tide-line, like King Canute defying the waves. But now even the traditionalists feel the water lapping around their feet.

It may be years before the Hong Kong Bar follows other jurisdictions like Britain and extends advocacy rights for solicitors to the higher courts, thereby lowering the general level of fees and making it easier and less expensive for people to turn to the law. Barristers' fees are so exorbitant here that even High Court judges have said they would think twice about taking a case to court when a two-day trial can cost up to $1 million.

In the last bastion of tradition, the old ways prevail. Thursday's decision to let members publish their academic and professional qualifications in the List of Practising Barristers is a small but necessary step on the road to reform. Senior counsel with established reputations get along nicely without the brash trappings of trade or disclosing fees. But junior members trying to make their way in a crowded profession have more pressing concerns. Some earn only $16,000 a month once overheads are paid.

Advertising competitive terms to prospective clients would help widen their court experience and build up their practices. It would also make the law more accessible to people of limited means. That move has again been defeated, but only by seven votes. So the day may not be far off when the price of justice is within the reach of the ordinary man.

Under present arrangements, it is most accessible by the rich.