A TOTAL of 130 out of nearly 400 Vietnamese asylum-seekers claiming for injuries and losses sustained during the Correctional Services Department raid on the Whitehead Detention Centre in April last year have been given legal aid. Of 2,200 appeal cases, 226 have been approved for support, the Legal Aid Department told the Legislative Council's legal services and security panels' inquiry yesterday. Officials also disclosed that they had briefed private lawyers to speed up legal aid applications and handle statements in Vietnam from witnesses or claimants who had already been repatriated. No representatives from the Security Branch attended the meeting which went on while remaining Vietnamese from Section 7 targeted by last year's raid were opposing forced repatriation. The legal services panel chairman, Simon Ip Sik-on, said he would call Refugees Co-ordinator Brian Bresnihan and Security Branch officials to attend the next meeting. Members criticised the delays in processing legal aid applications faced by the Vietnamese, who were being repatriated before their claims were met. The delays were revealed by the South China Morning Post on May 1. Only one claimant had been granted legal aid up until yesterday's announcement - and she was given it on the same day the Post article was published. The Director of Legal Aid, Lady Cheung, denied the department had favoured local claims against Vietnamese claims, despite recognising differences between target times to process Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese cases. She attributed delays to many factors including staff shortages, the difficult nature of cases and problems of interpretation. Lady Cheung said judicial review cases had a lower priority because the majority had already exceeded the appeal period. Other more 'urgent' cases such as battery, or those nearing the end of appeal period, were given priority. A lawyer for the refugees, Pam Baker, questioned the accuracy of government figures. She was still handling many cases which had not exceeded the appeal period and no appeal cases had been granted legal aid.