Record few given their day in court

Government data reveals proportion granted leave to launch judicial review hit all-time low last year despite 10-year high of applicants

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 8:21am

While the number of applications for leave to launch a judicial review reached a 10-year high last year, the proportion that were allowed to proceed with their challenges to the government hit a record low.

Even so, it was a rough year for the government.

It lost 32 per cent of the judicial reviews, the highest proportion since 2001 when it lost 36 per cent.

Only about 20 per cent of the 182 applications were granted - compared to almost 40 per cent in 2012 and an overall average of 45 per cent since 2008.

A University of Hong Kong law scholar said the figures for successful applications appeared consistent with a ruling by the Court of Final Appeal in 2007 that raised the threshold for granting an application from a potentially arguable case to a reasonably arguable case with a realistic prospect of success.

"But we cannot jump to conclusions by looking at the numbers alone," Professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said.

The number of judicial review applications would normally surge in a year when controversial political events were occurring and this factor would have to be taken into account to get a more accurate picture, Cheung said.

Last year saw the debate over political reform gain heat.

Another HKU law professor, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, said in 2012 that the increase in judicial reviews since the handover was in part related to how the Basic Law was written.

The mini-constitution set out some fundamental human rights, interpretations of which were open to challenge, said Tai, author of a book on judicial reviews and now better known as a key organiser of Occupy Central.

He said a better educated public more aware of their rights and the fact that the government regulated a wider scope of matters after the handover were also reasons for the surge in the number of applications.

Former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang once called it a "mistaken view" to think that a judicial review was an abuse of court resources.

Regarding applications for legal aid, which are crucial to the success of a challenge by a low-income litigant, 27 per cent were granted last year compared to 18.1 per cent in 2012 and 25 per cent in 2011.