Hong Kong government to boost prosecution presence in magistrates’ courts

A senior government lawyer will be posted to each of the seven magistrates’ courts as part of plan to improve way that cases are prosecuted

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 10:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 10:01am

A senior government lawyer will be posted to each of the seven magistrates’ courts as part of a plan to improve the way that cases are prosecuted in the lowest courts, Director of Public Prosecutions Keith Yeung Kar-hung said.

The plan, outlined on Monday to members of the Legislative Council’s panel on administration of justice and legal services, will also see 10 more court prosecutors being hired to ease the workload of the current 72 serving magistrates’ courts.

The caseload was 334,048 last year, up from 317,006 in 2015.

Low conviction rates at Magistrates’ Courts a cause for alarm

The court prosecutor grade was first created in 1976 as a pilot scheme to take over prosecution work in magistrates’ courts from police inspectors. It was made permanent in 1979.

They are appointed by the justice secretary under the Magistrates Ordinance and have the right of audience in the courts. They do not necessarily need to have attended law school, but undergo a nine-month training course arranged by the Department of Justice before starting work.

Their main job is to handle magistrates’ court cases that do not involve complex legal points, such as traffic offences.

With an establishment of 102 in mid-2014, some 18 per cent of posts were unfilled. The vacancy rate grew to 28 per cent at the end of last year.

The last time the department recruited court prosecutors was in 2008. Thirteen were hired, but nine of them later resigned.

The government conducted a review of prosecution work in magistracies last year. It is proposing that the court prosecutor grade should be retained but that “involvement of [government counsel] in duties at magistracy level should be enhanced”.

At Monday’s meeting, Graham Harris of the Bar Association said it did “conceptually not resist the proposal”, while Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who is also a barrister, said the job should be conducted by those with legal qualifications.

Meanwhile, deputy solicitor general Peter Wong hing-hong told members that a deal on the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments on matrimonial matters was expected to be struck as early as next month between Hong Kong and mainland China.

The reciprocal arrangement could tackle the evasion of cross-border maintenance payments and parental abduction. A bill on the matter could be tabled in the Legislative Council late next year.