Solicitor jailed for 'no win, no fee' offence to appeal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2011, 12:00am


The first person jailed in Hong Kong under an archaic law covering 'no win, no fee' work by lawyers has been handed hope of a reprieve.

Solicitor Winnie Lo Wai-yan, 41, has been granted leave to appeal to the city's highest court against her conviction for conspiracy to commit maintenance - which occurs when a third party supports litigation by others. As she celebrated the move to have her conviction reviewed by the Court of Final Appeal at a date to be set, Lo was able to extend her HK$100,000 bail.

Lo's conviction of conspiracy to commit maintenance was the first city's proven case of an ancient crime that remains on the city's books. The last punishment given for it was a fine in 1897.

Lo was jailed for 15 months by District Court Judge Albert Wong Sung-hau in July 2009.

Lo and recovery agent Cheung Oi-ping, 40, were charged with helping Wong Siu-ying, the mother of car crash victim Yeung Chun-kit, win a HK$3.5 million out-of-court settlement in September 2003.

Cheung had Wong sign a contract promising she would pay 25 per cent of her settlement if she won and nothing if she lost. Wong won, and Cheung got HK$862,000.

Cheung was also convicted of champerty - when a person funds a case to win a portion of the compensation - and jailed for 16 months.

In December last year, the Court of Appeal upheld Lo's conviction.

Lo's counsel, Clive Grossman SC, yesterday told the panel of Court of Final Appeal judges that the evidence given by Wong was too 'blurry' to substantiate the allegation against his client.

Grossman argued the definition of the offence was also too unclear that Lo and Cheung were 'not certain what they were doing was contrary to the law.'

He also said the Court of Appeal was only taking an 'easy approach' in coming up with its decision to uphold Lo's conviction and sentence.

But Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos said Lo had committed a serious offence.

'It was not [about] the amount [of 25 per cent]. The substance was the conduct,' he said.

'The conduct was quite serious. She was correctly found guilty by the trial judge beyond reasonable doubt. There was nothing wrong about the judgment. Fifteen months' imprisonment was also appropriate.'

The first and only previous time a Hong Kong court sentenced anyone for maintenance was in 1897, when two people were fined. Their convictions were overturned on appeal.

In 2007, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that the prohibition of champerty and maintenance still applied in Hong Kong, the only common law jurisdiction where the two offences still exist.