Government court costs at 10-year high of HK$64.3m
The government has spent HK$64.3 million in criminal court costs this year - a 10-year high which Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung attributed to the long-running 'milkshake murder' trial and a witness-tampering case involving lawyers Kevin Egan and Andrew Lam Ping-cheung.
There were 388 criminal cases prosecuted between April 2010 and 2011, costing the government an average of HK$165,600 each in legal costs, in a jurisdiction known for having some of the world's costliest lawyers. Although left to each judge's discretion, it is normal practice for the losing party to pay the other side's legal fees in a criminal case.
The bills for Nancy Kissel's trial - where the US investment banker's wife was found guilty of bludgeoning her husband to death after feeding him a drugged milkshake - ran swiftly into the millions. Spanning six years, the case involved a trial, two appeals and a retrial. The government was ordered to pay half the legal costs for the first trial, one third for the first appeal and all of the second appeal.
Concluding in the same year was another six-year case against lawyers Egan and Lam, which was heard all the way from the District Court to the Court of Final Appeal. Claims were dismissed of an alleged conspiracy to prevent a protected witness from cooperating with the ICAC in a market manipulation probe of her former boss.
'These cases were very complicated, it took a long time and the defence had very experienced and senior counsels representing them - and that's why the amount has increased,' Wong said yesterday at a Legislative Council meeting.
Meanwhile, the conviction rate for criminal cases in Hong Kong - once infamously described as 'probably approaching that of North Korea' - remained consistent with past years. Leading silk Clive Grossman made the controversial remark in 2009, responding to conviction rates of 94.8 per cent in the Court of First Instance and 92.6 per cent in the District Court. Later figures showed the rate excluding those that pleaded guilty was significantly lower, similar to those found in Britain, New Zealand and Australia - a nuance reflected in yesterday's figures.
Last year's conviction rate after trial was 75.3 per cent in the District Court and 71.7 per cent in the Court of First Instance. The conviction rate including guilty pleas was 93.7 and 93.8 per cent, respectively.