Urgent plea for more judges to be appointed
THE Government was ''selling justice to the community at a discount'' because it refused to increase the number of judges to improve deteriorating trial waiting times, the legal representative in the legislature, Simon Ip Sik-on, said.
Mr Ip said the Judiciary estimates had not provided for the appointment of a single new judge to the bench despite requests for three more High Court posts.
The appointment of new judges was essential to reduce the worsening trial waiting time for the courts, which now stood at about 200 to 300 days, exceeding the Judiciary's target by three to four times, he said.
It was ''astonishing'' that the Government had turned down the request on the grounds that it was pending a review conducted by the working party on Judiciary administration.
''There is a high risk that prosecutions will be dismissed under the Bill of Rights because they take too long to come to trial.
''This will seriously undermine confidence in the legal system and expose the Judiciary to ridicule.'' He said the shortage of judges was underlined by the fact that many District Court judges had to sit as Deputy High Court judges to cope with the volume of business in the High Court, resulting in an inadequate number of judges to deal with the caseload in the lower level court.
Only 17 out of the 29 District Court judges were sitting during a visit paid by legislators in January, he said. ''Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul has not worked and will not work. The only solution is to appoint more judges to both the High Court and the district court as soon as possible.'' The proposed appointment of recorders to the High Court and more efficient listing systems were unlikely to remedy the situation completely, he added.
Mr Ip was also dissatisfied about the 17 per cent reduction of provision for litigation services next year.
''This sharp reduction does not show a commitment by the Government to promote the resolution of human rights or constitutional issues . . . [which is] one of the compelling reasons for the establishment of an independent Legal Aid Authority,'' Mr Ip said.
Christine Loh Kung-wai expressed her objection that legal aid came under the purview of the director of administration - a civil servant. ''There is no reason why the head of the civil service should oversee the grant of legal aid where the case under consideration may be to challenge the Government.''