Judiciary urged to cut waiting time for cases

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am


The judiciary was urged to monitor the workload in its courts more effectively after it was found to have consistently failed to meet its targets for the time taken to deal with cases.

The Audit Commission said a study of the past seven years showed that the average time for a case to come to court exceeded the target by as much as 46 days, with the target for defended divorces not being met once since 2004.

Noting that the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance provided a constitutional right to justice without undue delay, the commission said waiting times were an appropriate indicator of the courts' performance.

The city's seven courts and four tribunals have different targets set for them by law.

A defended divorce should be heard within 110 days on average after a case is set down in the Family Court. Criminal cases should be heard within 100 days in the District Court and 120 days in the High Court.

The actual average waiting time for defended divorce cases, scheduled for a one-day hearing, was 143 days in 2008, 118 in 2009 and 128 last year.

In the Court of First Instance last year, the average waiting time for a criminal case from filing of an indictment to a hearing was 166 days, exceeding the target by 46 days.

For criminal cases in the District Court, the average waiting time last year was 128 days, well outside a 100-day target.

The commission recommended the judiciary take effective measures over the workload, with a view to keeping waiting times within targets.

Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said a quick resolution of cases would help, 'but if the judiciary pushes for a case to be handled in a speedy way, aiming to meet a target with restricted resources, it might not help to provide justice', Law said.

The commission also criticised chiefs of the courts' 120-strong bailiff section for not complying with guidelines for checks on the work of officers serving summonses and executing court orders and judgments. One assistant chief bailiff did not conduct any checks for two months despite being required to conduct 10 each month.

The judiciary, in agreeing with the recommendations, said target times were being missed in criminal cases because of more complex, lengthy cases, rescheduling of cases and an increased workload in the Family Court.

Heavy workload

The Audit Commission says the average time for a case to come to court exceeds the target by as much as this many days: 46