Lawyers warned against delaying tactics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am

In his first public speech since his nomination as the next chief justice, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li pointedly reminded judges and lawyers that their duty lay in the fair and efficient administration of justice, and warned lawyers to put an end to any delaying tactics.

Concluding his speech at a conference on civil justice reforms yesterday, Ma said he wished to say a few words 'to remind the legal profession that they form, together with judges, an integral part of the administration of justice'.

'Together with the benefits of the profession come great responsibilities,' Ma said.

A key objective of the civil justice reforms, implemented just over a year ago, was to prevent lawyers from abusing complex litigation procedures as tactical ploys to stretch out a case and outlast the opposing party financially. However, Ma said he noticed that lawyers were using the new rules 'as tools to embark on tactical games'. 'These days are numbered,' he said.

Ma, the High Court's chief judge, chairs the committee that monitors civil justice reforms and is compiling data on whether they have been effective one year on.

At the conference, jointly organised by the University of Hong Kong and University College London, Ma expressed his disappointment that the 'many members of the legal profession are still unaware of their responsibilities of the new culture'.

'The most satisfactory aspect of the [reform] has so far been the recognition by many members of the legal profession and judges that the changes brought about by the reform heralded a change in litigation and procedural culture,' he said. The least satisfactory aspect was the failure on the part of many more legal practitioners and judges to accept the reform was more than a cosmetic change. A lawyer's duty lay first to the administration of justice, next to the client and 'lastly themselves'.

In a glimpse of the likely character of the judiciary after he takes over in September, Ma reminded judges that under the reforms, they now have a statutory duty to ensure cases are efficiently resolved, and indicated he would like to see judges crack down on lawyers who flout court procedures designed for efficient case management.

'Most judges still continue to adopt a somewhat conservative approach; in other words, indulgences are afforded to the party in breach. I for one would not want to see a return to the days when indulgences were readily given to litigants in the face of breaches of earlier procedural orders or direction, which presumably were given with a view to effective case management,' he said.

'It should not matter whether the breaches of orders or directions have occurred through the neglect of legal advisers, or as a result of what can be called 'litigation tactics'.'

Yesterday's conference was attended by academics, lawyers and local and overseas judges.

Ma yesterday posed for photographs with Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, but said little about his appointment, since it has yet to be formally endorsed by the legislature. He said he would meet the press at a later date.