Hong Kong to get mega court to pack in the masses
New facility in Sham Shui Po will be double the normal size to cater for the most high-profile cases, but its location is criticised as inconvenient
Patsy Moy and Austin Chiu
Hong Kong is to get a mega court with space for 100 members of the public and dozens of litigants and lawyers, to be used for high-profile cases that are subject to intense media attention.
It will be inside the HK$2.7 billion West Kowloon Law Courts Building, which is under construction at the junction of Tung Chau Street and Tonkin Street West in Sham Shui Po. The site faces the Vegetable Marketing Organisation packaging centre.
But Law Society vice-president Stephen Hung Wan-shun said he worried that the building would become a white elephant if higher court judges were unwilling to travel from the prime court sites of Central and Admiralty to Sham Shui Po to hear cases which could take weeks to finish.
The construction floor area of the West Kowloon development is about 60,000 square metres.
It will have 32 courts - including a magistrates' court, small claims tribunal, coroner's court, obscene articles tribunal and other facilities.
They will be located on the middle to upper floors of the development's two towers, according to the Architectural Services Department.
Construction began in April last year and it is due to be completed by the end of 2015. Piling work is now under way, the department said.
Hung said that the Law Society was told by the government that the mega court would be used for any cases at any court level that were expected to attract dozens of journalists or more, and that would require teams of lawyers in attendance.
It is expected to be at least double the size of a standard court.
"The Law Society supports the building of a mega court as we don't want to see journalists and members of the public unable to get seats in the public gallery during an open court hearing," Hung said.
He added that having people standing in doorways to hear trials - instead of being seated in the public gallery - would disturb lawyers and judges.
But he was concerned that there could be a reluctance on the part of higher court judges to travel to the location in Sham Shui Po to preside over cases that could take weeks to finish.
Hung said he hoped that the mega court would not be underused, or worse, become a white elephant, if judges or senior lawyers refused to use it.
In response, the judiciary's administration department said in a statement that it aimed to put the court building on a site that was "strategically located at a convenient and accessible location … and that is of appropriate size to fully accommodate the judiciary's space requirement in a stand-alone law court building, and that is located in spacious and pleasant surroundings with sufficient open space."
It said: "The site [in Sham Shui Po] is easily accessible via existing means of public transport within 10 minutes' walking distance from either the Nam Cheong or Cheung Sha Wan MTR station."
Over the years there have been a number of high-profile cases in Hong Kong which have resulted in jam-packed courts with more than 100 journalists and members of the public all eager to hear the trials.
The most recent such case was the inquest into the 2010 Manila hostage tragedy, which took place a year after seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were shot and killed by sacked policeman Roland Mendoza in a bus siege in Manila. The hearing was moved from the Coroner's Court in the Eastern Court building to the larger High Court in Admiralty.
The case drew dozens of reporters, law students and the public, and seats in the defendants' dock had to be made available for journalists.
Other hearings which have drawn more than 100 journalists were the bribery case against former TVB general manager Stephen Chan Chi-wan and his former assistant in the District Court in 2011, and the long legal wrangle between the Chinachem Charitable Foundation and fung shui master Tony Chan Chung-chuen over Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum's billion-dollar estate.