Reduction in transcript fees to cut appeal costs of litigants
Review of charges also covers DVDs, CDs, but legislators want more relief
The government will lower the fee for obtaining transcripts of court proceedings next month from the present rate of HK$85 per page, a charge considered too high for many litigants when full documents run to hundreds of pages.
Lawmakers said the move was the first step in removing a huge obstacle to justice for those who seek to launch appeals, as the Department of Justice and government bodies are not required to pay for transcripts.
The change means the Digital Audio Recording and Transcript Services (Darts) contractor will charge on the number of words rather than the number of pages. The new rates will translate into about HK$46.20 for each page of English transcript, with an average of 330 words a page; HK$86 for each page of Chinese transcript, with an average of 860 characters a page. Copies of existing transcripts will cost HK$1 a page.
Under the old rates, in place since 1997, Chinese and English transcripts cost HK$85 a page, even if the page carries only one word, and obtaining a copy of an existing transcript also cost HK$85 a page.
The new fees also include a lower charge for a 60-minute audio-tape recording, down from HK$105 to HK$80. The contractor will also provide recordings on CD, at HK$315 for 14 hours of recordings, and DVD, at HK$570 for 98 hours.
At yesterday's meeting of Legco's panel on administration of justice and legal services, legislators said there was room for further fee reductions but agreed the new fees should start now to aid litigants.
Panel chairwoman Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said after the meeting negotiations with the government had taken place for more than three years. 'The costly transcript fee is an obstacle to justice. We see the new rates system as the first step to the long-needed change,' she said.
But questions on calculations of the old and new rates remained unanswered, she said, and the panel would continue to seek answers.
Ms Ng said legislators would continue to urge the government to give courts discretion to waive transcript fees for needy litigants in civil appeals. At present, the Registrar has discretion to waive transcript fees for legally aided or unrepresented litigants in criminal appeals. But Ms Ng said: 'To get legal aid, a litigant needs to convince the Legal Aid Department that his case is a deserving one. To do so, he often needs the transcripts.'
Another panel member, Emily Lau Wai-hing, queried at the meeting why the government could suddenly cut the fee. 'It sounded like the Darts contractors must have made a lot of money charging such high rates,' she said.
Legislator Miriam Lau Kin-yee said the fees for CDs and DVDs were too high. 'It is such an easy task to burn a DVD. Your DVDs must be the most expensive ones in the world,' she told officials.
Emma Lau Yin-wah, the government's judiciary administrator, said the rates set just recovered the Darts contractors' fee and administrative costs of judiciary staff in handling requests for transcripts.