Two solicitors and a consultant who pocketed some HK$1.5 million in fees over six years after helping 26 clients claim compensation went on trial in the District Court yesterday.
Juliana Lo Yuen-ching, 49, Gary Yeung Yun-hong, 44, and Ip Hon-ming, 60 and a director of Quickway Professional Consultants, denied 26 counts of champerty - an old piece of common law which prohibits parties with no direct interest in a legal action from encouraging and supporting litigation in return for a share of the proceeds from successful lawsuits or settlements.
Prosecutor Neil Mitchell said champerty was no longer an offence in England. But in Hong Kong - where the legal framework is based on English common law - the Court of Final Appeal had ruled it remained a crime.
He said Yeung and Lo were a couple and had established a law firm together in 2002.
Lo's mother was also a director and shareholder in Ip's consultancy firm.
The 26 claimants suffered injuries in traffic or workplace accidents between 2000 and 2004, Mitchell said.
They were introduced to Ip by associates or were approached by Ip while they were recovering in hospital. Ip then asked Yeung and Lo to prepare the lawsuits, the court heard.
Fung Ying-leung, one of the clients, told the court he suffered head and foot injuries in a motorcycle accident in April 2003. The court heard he had received four stitches in his lower lip and had to take 13 days off work to recover. A tradesman had introduced him to Ip.
Ip said he could help Fung get compensation and asked him to sign authorisation letters and an agreement which allowed Quickway to charge him 20 per cent of any compensation won.
Fung said a meeting was arranged with Yeung in which he was asked about the accident, his injuries, his family background and income.
Fung's lawsuit was settled in July 2005 when he was awarded HK$170,000 in compensation.
The court heard that Lo deducted HK$34,000 in fees before handing Fung a cheque for HK$130,309. "I was happy to receive it," Fung said.
Mitchell asked Fung whether he would still have been willing to pay the 20 per cent charges had he known that he could have applied for legal aid and received a lawyer's services for free.
"I could not say for sure," Fung responded.
The court heard that the three defendants were arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in December 2010.
The trial continues before Judge Amanda Woodcock today.