Kissel trial and appeals to cost taxpayers tens of millions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am


The legal fees run up by Nancy Kissel in fighting her first trial for the murder of her banker husband and two subsequent appeals against her conviction would amount to tens of millions of dollars, defence sources said yesterday - and taxpayers have to pay a big chunk.

The hourly rate of just one of the solicitors on her team for the first trial in 2005, Simon Clarke, was HK$4,500, Kissel's retrial solicitor, Colin Cohen, disclosed - and that trial ran for more than 60 hearing days.

Kissel's first appeal after the 2005 murder conviction failed, but her second succeeded and she was granted a retrial, which handed down a guilty verdict in March.

A court has ruled that her legal costs have to be borne partially or fully by taxpayers. The government has to pay half the legal costs for the first trial, one-third for the first appeal and all for the second appeal. No information is available on any costs action to do with the retrial.

Defence sources disclosed the information on costs yesterday as the Court of Final Appeal heard arguments from the government and Kissel's team over items on the legal bill.

Kissel, 46, who bludgeoned her Merrill Lynch banker husband Robert to death in their Parkview home, has said she will not appeal again, but she wants to serve the rest of her life sentence in a US prison. 'The time for appealing has now elapsed and she has decided not to file any appeal,' Cohen said. Her decision effectively ends the long-running case.

The high-profile case, which spanned six years, fascinated people around the world. But the Hong Kong public is only just beginning to get an idea of how much the court saga will cost taxpayers.

Individual items in the legal bill are now be scrutinised by both sides.

Clark said yesterday the trial had been run 'sparingly' and at modest rates. 'This case was of significant dimension in length and complexity,' he said. Experts in toxicology, pharmacology, DNA, metallurgy, computers, psychology and psychiatry had to be called, he said. The 'protracted' case ran from 2003, when Kissel was first charged, to her final appeal, which ended last year.

Clarke said the university-educated Kissel had taken a highly active role in her case, often giving him multiple notebooks containing her instructions when he visited her in custody.

The case was international in scope as it involved an expatriate family, he said. The legal team also had to correspond with friends, family members and witnesses abroad.

Also, Kissel suffered from memory loss, which made it difficult to get instructions from her about what had happened, Clarke said.

The hearing on the legal bill, which began yesterday, is scheduled to run for 10 days, but the court's acting registrar, Master Simon Kwang Cheok-weung, said he thought it might last longer.

The court heard the bill for the first trial alone included more than 2,000 items. Stephen Lau Wai-man, the costs draftsman for the government, said that of those, he and Kissel's representative had agreed on 1,000 items, leaving 1,200 in dispute.

The hearing continues.

In dispute

Both sides have agreed about 1,000 items on the legal bill for the first trial, which leaves the number of items in dispute at about: 1,200