Lawyer sues 1,148 prison officers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 September, 2010, 12:00am

More than 1,100 Correctional Services officers are being sued by a lawyer for more than HK$7 million in legal fees he says they have failed to pay for three years since their lawsuits against the government for overnight on-call payments failed.

Solicitor Kenneth Sit Hoi-wah submitted a writ to the High Court yesterday claiming the outstanding balance of more than HK$15 million worth of legal services his two law firms provided to members of the officers' association for the lawsuits. Settlement would mean each officer paying about HK$6,200 on average.

According to the writ, Sit's law firms had acted on behalf of the officers since 1999 in three lawsuits against the government for more than HK$600 million in payment for overnight on-call duties, which required staff to stay in a Correctional Services building close to their prisons for 101/2 hours after a shift, so they could be ready for work within 15 minutes.

A 2006 Court of Final Appeal ruling put an end to the lawsuits by dismissing the claim on the ground that the officers' terms of service under Civil Service Regulations could not be interpreted to create the entitlement for overtime. The court also found that because the officers were not required to stand by at their prisons - their places of work - the officers would not receive overtime.

In February 2007, one of Sit's firms served the bills totalling more than HK$15 million for legal services and disbursements made during the proceedings. Two-thirds of the officers involved in the lawsuits settled the bills, while 1,148 failed to pay.

Sit is seeking the balance from the officers, or damages for breach of contract.

Chiu Chi-keung, chairman of the junior section of the association, said the claim was against individual members and the association had been fighting for a better deal with the lawyer, to reduce the cost before the writ was filed. But some members personally disagreed with the charges and services provided by the lawyer and refused to settle the payment of their own volition, he said.

Sit said he had no alternative but to sue the officers.