Chief prosecutor seeks speedy resolution to judicial reviews

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

The director of public prosecutions has expressed concerns about criminal proceedings being dragged out by judicial reviews, some of which are 'not meritorious'.

Grenville Cross SC stopped short of saying the system was being abused, but hoped the proceedings could be dealt with quickly.

'Sometimes we will take the view that a particular judicial review is not meritorious, and sometimes they have greater merits. It happens all the time,' Mr Cross said in the yearly review of the Department of Justice prosecutions division.

A similar situation occurred in appeal cases, he added.

'Given that there are judicial reviews, and given that there can be delays in criminal cases for some time, I think it is very important that these cases be expedited as fast as possible within the judiciary system so the criminal cases ... would not be delayed for too long,' he said.

Last year the Court of Appeal determined 541 cases, while the Court of First Instance determined 1,117 appeals from magistrates' courts.

Mr Cross also pointed to a huge increase since the handover in the number of criminal cases going to final appeal.

While just 140 such cases went to the Privy Council in London in the 11 1/2 years before the handover, in the same period since - to last December - the Court of Final Appeal had dealt with 1,061.

'We have had to brief out some trial cases for manpower concerns due to the enormous increase, but it is a good sign, showing that people have confidence in our appeal system,' he said.

The division also pursued 248,403 new prosecutions in the courts last year, up 12 per cent from 221,164 in 2007. Conviction rates remained steady at 73 per cent in magistrates' courts, 93 per cent in the District Court and 95 per cent in the Court of First Instance.

Senior assistant director of public prosecutions Alex Lee Wan-tang said the increase in prosecutions in the report was largely accounted for by relatively minor cases, such as traffic offences.

Mr Lee would not assess the impact of the financial meltdown or forecast the crime trend for next year, but he said corruption cases might soar in the faltering economy.

'As we learned from the figures after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, it is possible we will see a rise in such cases,' he said.

Mr Lee also spoke of the difficulties surrounding the collection of evidence and investigation of technology-related crimes. 'The lawbreakers may not be in Hong Kong and this requires co-operation from different regions,' he said.

There were 791 technology crimes reported last year, but only 25 cases of computer crime were prosecuted and 19 people convicted.

With regards to juvenile offenders - those aged up to 17 years - 2,358, or 37.4 per cent, were cautioned by police as an alternative to prosecution, the annual report said.

Crime line

Reported losses, in HK dollars, in serious fraud complaints last year amounted to: $4.77b

Proceeds, in HK dollars, confiscated in money-laundering cases last year amounted to: $11.01m

Conviction rate for corruption cases last year was: 84.9%