Legal aid change?
I refer to the article headlined 'Change of function touted for legal aid' (July 10).
It would be incorrect to say that the Legal Aid Department has experienced constant funding problems.
Unlike overseas jurisdictions, there has not been a cap on legal aid spending in Hong Kong.
For the current financial year, the Finance Committee has in fact approved a provision of $826.9 million for the Legal Aid Department, of which $582.9 million is for legal aid costs. This represents a 4.5 per cent increase in the overall provision for the department and a 6 per cent increase for legal aid costs as compared with 2002-03.
The financial eligibility limits for legal aid are reviewed annually to take into account inflation and, biennially, to also reflect the changes in litigation costs. The administration has just completed these two reviews plus a five-yearly review of the criteria for assessing financial eligibility of applicants.
The outcomes have been tabled to the panel on administration of justice and legal services of the Legislative Council and are being studied. The article also suggested expanding the scope of the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme. It is, in fact, one of the issues raised by the Legco panel and is being considered in the five-yearly review.
In order to maintain the financial viability of the supplementary scheme, expansion of its scope is not recommended. The principle that the supplementary scheme should be self-financing has been well established since its introduction in 1984.
Its present scope ensures that the fund for the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme is able to build up a healthy balance collected from damages awarded to aided persons to help finance litigation by others targeted by the scheme.
Regarding a conditional fee arrangement, it is being examined by a sub-committee of the Law Reform Commission. It is too early to say whether such an arrangement will be introduced to Hong Kong and what impact it might have on the legal aid system.
FANNY YU for Director of Legal Aid