Zervos tipped as frontrunner for DPP

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 December, 2010, 12:00am

The Department of Justice is expected to appoint a new director of public prosecutions in February when its sitting head, Ian McWalters SC, steps down as his retirement approaches.

An internal civil service notice inviting applications was sent out by the department in October. The deadline for applications was November 22, but the department has yet to announce an outcome.

Barrister Clive Grossman SC said: 'I think Kevin Zervos is the obvious choice. He is very able.'

At present the 57-year-old senior counsel is chief of staff and one of five deputy directors of public prosecutions. He has represented the government in several high-profile cases, including those of Nancy Kissel and Amina Mariam Bokhary.

Kissel is facing a retrial for allegedly murdering her husband, and Bokhary returns to court later this month to explain an alleged breach of her probation order, imposed for assaulting a police officer.

McWalters, who was appointed in October last year aged 58, is an expert on corruption cases. His tenure was always expected to be transitional.

His appointment followed the retirement of Grenville Cross SC - the first chief prosecutor since the handover, who held the job for 12 years.

'Ian's departure will be a big loss to the department,' Law Society president Huen Wong said. 'He's a good lawyer and a very capable person.' Wong said he had not heard what McWalters' post-retirement plans were, but in the past some retiring directors of public prosecutions had become judges.

The chairwoman of the Legislative Council's panel on the administration of justice and legal services, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, said: '[Zervos] is a strong candidate. He's very competent, very forward-looking.'

The other four deputy directors are Louisa Lai Nga-man, 47; Robert Lee Shiu-keung, 54; Arthur Luk Yee-shun SC, 59; and Alain Sham Chung-ping, 55. Luk, who has been in the post the longest, reaches retirement age next year.

A spokeswoman for the department said officers at the rank of principal government counsel within the department and the legal advisory division (works) of the Development Bureau were automatically considered by the promotion board. Other legal officers at the equivalent rank could also apply, she said.

While Grossman said he could not think of another likely contender for the post, Ng said it was conceivable that a lawyer from private practice could be recruited. 'DPP is a very important role. It should be open for competition,' she said, adding that cross-fertilisation between government lawyers and those in private practice was beneficial to the administration of justice.

There were many experienced lawyers in private practice who were crown counsels before the handover, she said.

The department was facing issues with internal organisation and a lack of experienced lawyers at the top, Ng said. The department had too many senior government counsel but not enough officials at directorate level.

Whoever succeeded McWalters would have to continue to deal with these matters, which the department has already begun to address.

Last month, the department proposed to Legco the creation of a new rank of assistant principal government counsel, between senior government counsel and the directorate grade.

Senior government counsel have been shouldering responsibilities and duties more appropriately handled by officials at the directorate level, the report says.

Government lawyers who appeared in court had back-to-back cases, Ng said. At the same time, legal advice work, which included making decisions on whether to prosecute, could not be underestimated.

In the department's proposal, seven of the 15 new posts are to be in the prosecutions division, while the rest will be in other divisions and the Developmental Bureau.

A department spokesman said the DPP would be selected primarily on the basis of character, ability and experience, and in accordance with established procedures.