Kevin Zervos, city's top lawyer, weighs his next move

Kevin Zervos, the city's top prosecutor, turns 60 next year. The Australian may switch roles to be a High Court judge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 4:15am

Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos SC already foresees himself spending his Christmas holiday in the office trying to get caught up on his cases, while the rest of the department will probably be enjoying the special occasion with their families.

"I use it [Christmas] as an opportunity to keep up with work," the head of the prosecutions division told the South China Morning Post. This won't surprise people who know Zervos well enough to appreciate his zeal for hard work and his high energy levels.

Rather than having any long vacations since becoming the division chief, Zervos takes only short breaks of three or four days each time to fly back to Australia to catch up with his friends and family members.

"I find it hard to be away for too long. It is a demanding job and you have to treat it seriously. You are constantly thinking about it. It is 24 hours and seven days a week. It is a great public responsibility that is with me every minute of the day. I mean it sincerely."

At least once a month, though, the prosecution chief rewards himself with a meal at one of his favourite eateries - not the Michelin-starred Yung Kee Restaurant, but inexpensive though well-known noodle shops in Shau Kei Wan and Wan Chai. Zervos said his favourite dish is noodles with fish balls, one of the city's most common dishes.

While other directors of public prosecutions have seldom strayed from behind their desks, Zervos has plunged time and again into the courtroom fray.

Last month, he represented the government in the District Court to challenge an application for a trial delay until next June. Earlier this month he appeared at the Lamma ferry disaster inquiry, trying to persuade the commission to adjourn the hearing until mid-January.

"I believe in leading by example as a management role," Zervos said. "I don't think a DPP is just sitting in the office and making decisions. I am representing the community. You have got to be out talking to the community and representing the community."

The Law Society's criminal law and procedure committee chairman, Stephen Hung Wan-shun, praises Zervos for making the Hong Kong criminal justice system more transparent, and improving communication between the department and defence lawyers through various seminars he has organised.

"In the past, the Department of Justice was technically isolated from the world outside," Hung said. "But Mr Zervos is willing to approach and listen to people, and he is open to different views. He would immediately look into problems after we raised them, which shows he is very eager to improve the criminal system of Hong Kong."

Hung says Zervos is more active than his predecessors in attending court sessions to play a prosecutor's role, instead of sitting quietly in his office.

Another top defence lawyer, Jonathan Midgley, one of Zervos' major opponents in criminal litigations for many years, described the prosecution chief as a "tough guy" in court. "But I have the highest appreciation for his litigation skill and integrity. He is talented and professional."

Despite being on opposing sides inside the courtroom, the two men are long-time friends. "Outside the courtroom, we are good friends and are able to separate our cases from social life," Midgley said.

Zervos is keen on promoting public education about how the criminal justice system works.

The city's first Prosecution Week was launched in July this year, to promote transparency in the work of the prosecutions division and to educate the public about the importance of the rule of law.

"It is part of my job to educate the community to make the public more aware of how the criminal justice system works," Zervos said. "When they [the public] know it and are more informed about it, they will become more understanding and supportive of the system.

"That is why we have Prosecution Week. We [public prosecutors] went into schools to promote it, and give [students] a little gentle message about the importance of the rule of law," he said. "It is a human connection," he said.

Now Zervos is at a crossroads in his career. He reaches the civil service retirement age of 60 next year and the Department of Justice has begun looking for his replacement. The question is, what comes next for this Australian who has had such a big impact since his appointment to head of the prosecutions division in March last year?

One rumour says he will leave the department; another, that he is destined to become a High Court judge. During a recent interview, the veteran barrister was tight-lipped about his plans, dodging the question with humour. "I want to be a journalist," he replied with a mischievous smile.

The only thing that seems certain is that he has little or no interest in being a law professor.

A person in the legal field told the Post the rumours about a High Court judgeship are "rather certain".

"He is someone who would love to continue his work in the legal field."



Age 59

Education Graduated in science and law from Monash University, Australia.

Then and now Beginning in 1992, Zervos worked as counsel with the then Attorney General's Chambers and later the Department of Justice in Hong Kong.

He was initially attached to the commercial crime unit, where he mainly prosecuted white-collar crime cases. Was then made head of appeals specialising in human rights and later chief of staff.

In May 2003, he was appointed senior counsel in Hong Kong.

In 2009, he completed a master of laws (human rights) at the University of Hong Kong.

In March 2011, he was appointed director of public prosecutions