Slow response to touts for injury suits criticised

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2008, 12:00am

Agents problem 'evident for years'

The government has drawn flak for its slow response to errant recovery agents who help accident victims claim compensation to share in the resulting gains.

The criticism came after a lawyer and a claims agent were charged in Eastern Court on Tuesday with conspiring to encourage a woman to launch a claim for her son, who had been injured in a traffic accident.

Those were the first charges laid in the city against maintenance and champerty - encouraging and aiding others to launch a lawsuit in return for a portion of the damages awarded. After the case came to light, the government started to broadcast advertisements on television and radio yesterday to warn against the illegal practice.

A labour-rights concern group and the legal community chastised the government for failing to crack down on such practices.

'The problem has existed for a few years and we have long been asking the Department of Justice to take action,' said Tony Ho Wing-chi, organiser of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims.

Mr Ho said some profit-making recovery agencies had names similar to NGOs and their websites carried links to compensation-related boards and government departments, which made it very confusing for the public.

He called on the government to keep curbing such practices to safeguard the interests of injured workers and accident victims.

Legal-sector lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said victims had been complaining since 2001 about unscrupulous recovery agents, who touted for clients everywhere, including outside Labour Department service centres and physiotherapy clinics.

'It is now 2008. The government has been extremely slow to act or even to accept that there is something wrong with recovery agents,' Ms Ng said.

The root of the problem was the stringent legal-aid process, which prompted those who could not receive help to resort to recovery agents, she said.

She noted that agents could demand 30 to 40 per cent of the settlement sum and also appeared sympathetic to their clients by lending money at high interest rates.

She said the Law Society and the Bar Association had been urging the government to formulate a policy to target recovery agents through the legislature. But the government should also act to stop agents advertising, she said. 'Prosecution is not enough.'