Judge opts out of hearing civil service case
By CATHERINE NG
A LANDMARK lawsuit filed against the Government by expatriate civil servants is running into problems even before it reaches the courts.
Mr Justice Mayo, due to decide whether the lawsuit could be heard in court, has turned down the job, because he is member of the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants (AECS) - the union which filed the lawsuit.
The association is seeking a judicial review of the Government's policy of giving preference to local civil servants. It says the policy discriminates against foreign nationals and is a breach of the Bill of Rights.
The assignment, handed to Mr Justice Mayo last week, has now been given to Mr Justice Keith, also an AECS member.
Mr Justice Keith has told Wilkinson and Grist, the solicitors representing the Government, that he is willing to withdraw from the association.
A senior high court judge admitted that many judges were uneasy about handling the case because of their status as civil servants.
The majority of High Court judges, who handle judicial reviews, are either members of the AECS or the Local Judicial Officers' Association (LJOA).
Of the 32 judges - including deputies - 16 are AECS members and most of the nine locals are LJOA members.
The senior judge said that apart from the union membership, their appointment on either local or expatriate terms would make it possible for them to be accused of lacking impartiality in handling the case.
'To handle the assignment to grant a leave is very simple, but it is possible it could lead to future criticism,' he said.
'In each case, it is up to the judge to decide whether he will accept the assignment to handle the case, either to grant leave or to hear the case.
'He will declare his interest, if involved, to the concerned parties and see whether they have objections,' he said.
The judge suggested a counsel from the private sector be appointed temporarily as a deputy judge to handle the case.
But the Deputy Secretary for Civil Service Christopher Jackson said he did not see the union membership of judges as a sensitive issue.
'Even Michael Sze [the Secretary for Civil Service] is a member of the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers Association. And Mr Justice Keith is fine,' he said.
AECS president Royston Griffey said he wanted complete impartiality for the case.
'I do not want to hear any allegation about partiality after the case is over,' he said.
The AECS filed the application for judicial review last Thursday in its name and four of its members. Leave is expected to be granted within the next few weeks.
Neither Mr Justice Mayo nor Mr Justice Keith could be reached for comment.