Judiciary should restructure our legal system based on society's strengths

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2012, 12:00am


I read with interest reports and commentaries about the alleged shortage of judges. As the judiciary prepares to return its headquarters to Statue Square, some in the legal profession are already looking for room in the old Supreme Court building to apply Parkinson's Law.

The reincarnated building is too big for the existing contingent of judges. Hiring additional judges to fill its space not only will save the judiciary from looking vacuous but might even improve the judicial service, thus inducing more litigations and more business for trial lawyers.

Lawmakers with private practice in advocacy have been most enthusiastic about the need to hire more judges. They referred to increases of three and 28 days in average waiting time for criminal and civil cases. But whatever these increases may imply, taxpayers surely care more about reducing waiting time for medical services and nursing homes than that for the court service.

In the past decade, the number of judicial officers has swollen against continued declines in caseload. Between 2009 and 2011, the annual caseload of the appellate court rose marginally from 285 to 291 whereas that of the Court of First Instance plummeted by 39 per cent from 26,940 to 16,469. Similar caseload declines are observed in district and magistrate courts.

To account for increased wait-time against a swollen workforce and diminished caseload, we need statistics of time required by judges to write opinions. Judicial efficiency is best measured by the time taken by judicial officers to write opinions. The judiciary, traditionally notorious for tardiness, has been associated with images of confounded judges struggling mechanically with formulaic English.

Nevertheless, under new leadership, it now seems to be changing to the right track. It shouldn't be flustered by inapt disparagements against the meticulous care taken in judicial recruitment. But it must heed the underlying cause for the difficulty it has encountered in finding the right candidates for appointment. For sustainable development, the judiciary should help restructure our legal system realistically, based on our society's inherent strengths, rather than shoring up a rickety colonial remnant with alien shibboleths.

There is no future for a legal system that thrives on public ignorance and depends on the political authority's willingness to enforce court decisions written in a foreign language according to imported doctrines.

Anna Tse, Mid-Levels