Justice at risk from excessive workload, says Kevin Zervos
After the warning by city’s top prosecutor Kevin Zervos, a leading legal academic calls for the creation of more posts in the highest courts
Appeal court judges are saddled with too much work, resulting in unusual delays in delivering their judicial decisions, the city's top prosecutor has warned.
The heavy workload also meant that occasionally the judges did not have time to read beforehand the papers or case precedents filed by lawyers and prosecutors, Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos said.
Zervos, who steps down next month, highlighted the problem in the "Prosecutions Hong Kong 2012" report, the annual review of the prosecution's work that was released yesterday.
Lawyers and academics shared the view that there were not enough appellate judges.
The judiciary says it has no such vacancies now. There are 10 Court of Appeal judges, three permanent judges on the Court of Final Appeal, a chief judge of the High Court and one Chief Justice - Geoffrey Ma Tao-li.
In the report, Zervos pointed to the failure of some lawyers to file written arguments with the appeal courts in a timely manner, resulting in delays and in an incomplete resolution of the appeal.
"Equally regretful are the occasions when appellate judges, due to an inordinate workload, do not have time to read the papers or the case authorities when oral argument is presented by the parties," he wrote.
"The workload has also caused an inordinate delay in the delivery of decisions. This is not conducive to effective justice and needs to be addressed."
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said the judiciary shortage was illustrated by the long waiting time for appeals to be heard. Parties typically waited several months to appear in a 30-minute hearing before a panel of three appeal judges to argue for permission to appeal, he said.
Cheung suggested that more vacancies for appeal judges be created. "But when it comes to appointments, [the judiciary] should be cautious and appoint only those who are capable and appropriate," he said.
However, solicitor Stephen Hung Wan-shun, said: "There is some delay in the delivery of decisions but the situation isn't alarming, although there is much room for improvement."
Hung also called on the judiciary to consider expanding the courtrooms.
"There are High Court judges sitting at the District Court. The High Court building is packed with judges already … the judiciary should address the space issue," he said.
In the report, Zervos noted more trials were being conducted in Chinese, which he said was "expected and applauded".
He said serious difficulties would arise when addressing legal issues and arguments that were in English in a trial conducted in Chinese.
Additional reporting by Julie Chu