Measures can be taken to reduce Hong Kong judiciary's tardiness

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 2011, 12:00am


Your editorial ('Chief justice faces more than legal challenges', April 15), following on the heels of the Audit Commission's report on judiciary administration, heaped tedious accolades on the recently retired ex-chief justice. You also pleaded with the public to understand and support the incumbent, referring vaguely to the formidable 'administrative challenge' confronting the judiciary.

It offered neither an analysis of the challenge nor a proposal about how best to manage the underlying issues exposed in the audit report.

Tardiness, for example, is an entrenched institutional failing of the judiciary.

The report's findings about marked increases in waiting time should be viewed against the backdrop of the judiciary's expanding workforce and dwindling caseload.

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of judicial officers in the Court of First Instance increased by 15 to 42, up 56 per cent whereas the number of cases was down 19 per cent to 18,101. Mounting waiting time indicates congestion of undecided cases in a chain of delays.

Neville Sarony, a practising silk observed, in an article in November, 2010 ('Justice delayed') that 'two to three months' delay is quite normal between counsels' closing submissions and the judge's handing down the judgment' and 'six to 10 months is becoming almost customary'.

The judiciary's justification for delays - that cases are getting more complex - is unconvincing.

Unlike their counterparts in England, Hong Kong judges do not deliver extemporary judgments and counsels always need adjournment to prepare written submissions.

Persistent inefficiency of the legal profession is attributable to the lack of required skills which, as the learned silk noted, can only be acquired in an evolutionary process.

I understand that a few local judges are exceptionally talented in English articulation both verbally and mentally. But most other local judges have to struggle constantly with a foreign language which they can only operate mechanically.

Expatriate judges who work through interpreters face different sets of cultural problems regarding factual evaluation and relevance of plausible principles.

Instead of straddling across two unbridgeable divides, language and cultural, to bluff up a Potemkin fa?ade of cross-cultural representation and reliability, the judiciary should expedite the long-delayed localisation process and develop a practical institution based on environmental realities.

Our law schools should begin to offer intense Chinese-language programmes for law students.

Rosanna Yam, Mid-Levels