Judiciary still lacks modern management

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 1994, 12:00am

GATHERING dust in the Supreme Court is a copy of a blueprint for efficient and effective management of the Hong Kong Judiciary.

Known as the Robinson Report, its author, Peter Robinson, was head-hunted from the top echelons of the British Judiciary in 1986 to lead a six-month study of Hong Kong's Judiciary and make recommendations to improve it.

Today, eight years after Mr Robinson passed his report to the then chief justice, Sir Denys Roberts, and six years since it was passed on to his successor Sir Ti Liang Yang, the Judiciary is still waiting for the modern management and basic resources that were urged.

When Sir Denys retired, he said in his farewell speech: ''I received the Judiciary in good health in 1979 and I leave it in 1988 . . . with virtually nothing achieved, save that, to my credit, I leave two tennis courts fully restored.'' As recently as last week Sir Ti Liang spoke of imminent ''major administrative reform efforts'' and of how he began the process six months ago by setting up a Working Party on Judiciary Administration.

He said the party was mapping out a broad strategy for enhancing judicial efficiency and had recommended measures including ''computerisation, more flexible administration systems and modern management''.

''Never before have we had the benefit of such collective advice and wisdom on the management of the Judiciary. This, in itself, is a breakthrough,'' said Sir Ti Liang.

But a cursory scan of the 10 chapters of findings and recommendations in the Robinson Report clearly demonstrates, in black and white, that the Judiciary has possessed the advice and wisdom since 1986, yet scarcely acted on it.

Take, for example, the Robinson Report's recommendations urging technology: ''Computerisation will cost money in the beginning. Can the Judiciary afford not to devise and implement a computer strategy of some sort?'' In 1994, the Judiciary remains bereft of a computerisation system dedicated to enhancing efficiency throughout the system.

Or the 1986 recommendation urging that the Judiciary set up a system to ensure the reporting of court proceedings, rather than having Hong Kong's judges write in longhand all the evidence, verbatim.

On this aspect, Mr Robinson was emphatic: ''If there is one problem more urgently pressed on me than any other it is the lack of means of recording proceedings. Coverage by court reporters would cost very much less than the saving in the operating cost in such courts and would thus be a considerable net gain to the Judiciary alone. The obstacles are serious and they call for early, determined and single-minded action . . .'' In 1994, the vast majority of the Judiciary remains bereft of a court reporting or recording service. The High Court is serviced, but long-suffering judges in the District Court and Magistrates Court still write a longhand note of proceedings.

But the main thrust of the Robinson Report revolves around the need for a management overhaul and a high-ranking judiciary administrator to oversee the process.

In a chapter titled Judicial Leadership, he outlines the ''great importance'' and urgency for the appointment of a judiciary administrator to take charge and run the Judiciary effectively and efficiently.

''The services of a trained senior administrator are essential - a point with which most people seem to agree. I advise that the task not be under-estimated,'' he said.

''The new administrator should keep the progress of business under continuous review and advise the Chief Justice at intervals about the state of business in all courts and tribunals.'' Yesterday, lawyer Alice Tai Yuen-ying, formerly the director of the Government's Intellectual Property Department, started work as a Judiciary administrator at a salary equivalent to a High Court Judge.

Welcoming her appointment, Sir Ti Liang said: ''One of her tasks will be to promote a service-oriented culture within the judicial system and to introduce a modern management approach into the Judiciary. I very much look forward to working with her.'' Yesterday, Ms Tai spent her first day at work getting to know the staff.

Spending little time in her office, where her belongings had yet to be unpacked and sorted out, Ms Tai toured the Supreme Court building meeting clerks, judicial officers and judges.