Government always finds 'good' reasons to delay law reforms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 January, 2011, 12:00am

I am delighted by your calling attention to the tardiness of the government in implementing the numerous recommendations of the Law Reform Commission ('The key to providing a level legal playing field', December 27).

However, I believe this has far less to do with whether the members of the Law Reform Commission are full-time or part-time.

In my experience as a long-serving Legislative Council member with special interest in the healthy state of our law and legal system, the culprits are really the following:

The secretary for justice does not consider that he has a direct role in ensuring that the system of law as a whole is fair and up to date. The Department of Justice considers itself mainly a provider of legal services to other government departments, and law reform in any specific area is a matter for the relevant policy bureau. So if the relevant department refuses to budge, or no department accepts the responsibility, nothing gets done, even if there are valid Law Reform Commission recommendations. The commission itself has no power to press government departments to implement their recommendations;

The government is reluctant to come to Legco with any legislative proposals unless it is sure of success or the matter cannot possibly be avoided. There are always 'good'' reasons to delay law reform; and

Most law reforms are controversial. This is simply common sense. However, the government has neither the leadership to resolve differences and forge consensus nor the courage to act according to its conviction. But so long as some stakeholder disagrees, a government decision will be deferred.

Of course, there are exceptions, but the above accounts, in a great majority of cases, for the 'black hole' referred to by I. Grenville Cross ('Report on law reform was lost in black hole', January 3).

It has to be pointed out that not all law reform recommendations are acceptable. I know of one or two which are definitely better forgotten.

So long as the three factors are unchanged, I do not see much hope for catching up with law reform, even if the Law Reform Commission was composed of full-time members, and a legal duty was imposed on the government to give proper account to Legco on the speed of implementation. To begin with, this would itself require legislation which might not be totally non-controversial.

I should add that the panel of administration of justice and legal services (which I chair) has taken upon itself the uphill task of following up on a number of law reform recommendations.

Up to now, the panel has succeeded in attracting little media support on the questionable ground that legal issues are beyond the understanding of general readers.

Margaret Ng, legislative councillor