'Lawyer of Arabia' spared $4m legal bill

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 12:00am

A solicitor fined $170,000 for professional misconduct who donned Arabic garb during his hearings was saved from footing a legal bill of $4 million after the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that the costs were disproportionate to the fine.

A panel of three judges upheld the Law Society's disciplinary tribunal's conviction of Josip Ma Pui-tung in July for a breach of professional misconduct over his handling of a High Court case involving a property sale in Tai Po.

The tribunal imposed the fine and also instructed him to pay the $4 million costs of the marathon tribunal proceedings, which involved 38 sessions lasting 14 months. He was also barred from running his own legal firm or being in a legal partnership for six months.

But the Court of Appeal yesterday quashed the costs instruction and ordered that the issue be referred to the tribunal for reconsideration.

Justices William Stone, Anthony Rogers and Doreen Le Pichon unanimously found the tribunal had failed to properly exercise its statutory discretion when ordering Mr Ma to pay 80 per cent of the tribunal's costs, which amounted to more than $4 million.

During the marathon tribunal, Mr Ma wore Arabic attire and sunglasses. He wore the same clothes during his last Court of Appeal hearing late last month, explaining outside the court that he liked Arabic culture and bought the clothing during trips he made to the Middle East. He did not appear in court yesterday to hear the judgment.

The judges' ruling stated that the punishment levied on Mr Ma was 'dwarfed by the costs' and the tribunal had failed to properly assess 'a reasonable contribution' towards the costs.

Mr Justice Stone added that the tribunal was not even presented with a detailed breakdown of the costs when the order was made, adding expensive commercial premises were hired unnecessarily for holding the tribunal's proceedings, such as suites in Pacific Place and on two occasions the Mandarin Oriental hotel.