Judge Frank Stock slams long and wasteful trials

Judges, barristers and their defendants all guilty of costly delays, High Court judge says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 2:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 2:58am

A Court of Appeal judge has called for reform of criminal justice procedures in the wake of a lengthy fraud case that squandered taxpayers' money.

Mr Justice Frank Stock passed the damning criticism on a District Court trial that had been set for 50 days, but stretched out to 128 days spanning more than five years.

Of note were multiple changes to the defence team - the three defendants hired at least eight leading barristers, one after another. Cross-examination of the first witness alone took more than 40 days.

Eventually in June 2011, Hon Ming-kong, former chairman and financial controller of China Sciences Conservational Power, and two others were found guilty of charges including conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to steal, and publishing a false statement involving HK$72 million.

But the trial was hit with long adjournments, infrequent hearings and prolonged applications, the judge said yesterday.

"The waste of public funds in this case was extraordinary. That waste is, however, in our long and combined experience, not unique to this case," Stock wrote in a judgment.

"It is particularly typical of the waste occasioned in commercial crime and corruption trials in the District Court."

He pointed out that it was not just about wasting public money. It was also in the interests of the accused who were awaiting trial for justice to be administered without unnecessary delay.

"It seems to me necessary, by reference to the detail of one case, to illustrate the degree to which reliance on the interests of a defendant can be abused to the gross detriment of the administration of justice."

Barristers who contributed to delays and disruptions had always justified their acts by stressing that defendants were entitled to a fair trial, Stock said.

But the smooth running of a trial, which lawyers had a duty to ensure, was not inconsistent with the right to a fair trial, he said.

The judge also noted that the prosecution would not claim legal costs, which he said must be enormous, after the defendants were convicted. The prosecution's inaction was in line with standard policy, the court was told earlier. Stock said taxpayers should be concerned about the policy, if it did exist.

He urged trial judges to manage their cases more stringently by setting a timetable. There was also a need to change a culture in which lawyers' diaries "far too often dictate" the progress of a case.

"A change in criminal procedure culture in this jurisdiction is, therefore, long overdue," he said.