Legal aid changes should ensure greater degree of transparency

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2007, 12:00am

Graham Warburton's letter ('Transfer could compromise department,' June 19) reads like a hotchpotch of mismatched analogies and non sequiturs.

He seems unable to distinguish resignation from recusal, and ignorant about the functions of different government branches.

Justice Woo Kwok-hing's recusal from an ad hoc inquiry for personal reasons does not support the correspondent's rhetoric about whether the home affairs secretary should resign in a hypothetical case analogous to the Hong Kong Institute of Education incident. The role of a presiding judge is materially different from that of a minister running a policy bureau.

A judge cannot delegate and must personally rule over every hearing whereas a minister, who must delegate, is responsible for the delegated functions that they are performed efficiently and in compliance with regulations. Should the home affairs secretary resign if a friend, who is injured in a playground, takes action against the government? Should the chief justice resign every time there is an appeal, with appeals in effect being disputes involving judicial officers whose decisions appellants seek to repeal?

I cannot see how the impartiality of the Legal Aid Department could be compromised when accountability for the department is transferred from the Legal Aid Services Council, a rather non-transparent and non-publicly accountable body, to the home affairs secretary, a transparent and publicly accountable office.

Mr Warburton alluded to 'the growth of personal fiefdoms in government over the past 10 years'.

Personal fiefdoms represent sectarian enthusiasm which, if properly harnessed, may contribute synergy. For good governance, what is important is whether there is an effective system of checks and balances to ensure that no operation unit is accorded more power and more autonomy than it can be held accountable for.

I trust that putting the Legal Aid Department under the purview of the Home Affairs Bureau is the first step in the right direction of improving the transparency and the accountability of our government's operations in legal matters.

Cynthia Sze, Taikoo Shing