A-G move on poll disappoints lawyers

Mary Luk

The legal profession expressed disappointment yesterday after learning the Attorney-General had gone ahead with a poll on whether solicitors should have rights of audience in the higher courts.

Ignoring repeated appeals from the Bar Association and the Law Society to consult them on drafting the questions, Jeremy Mathews commissioned City University to go ahead with the survey without informing the two bodies.

One thousand households were interviewed last month.

Deputy Solicitor-General Robert Allcock declined to disclose the questions.

'We do not want to stir up a row with the legal profession. We prefer to present the whole package of the survey results when it is ready,' he said.

Law Society council member, Raymond Tang Yee-bong, said he was surprised at the way Mr Mathews had handled the matter.

'Whether a solicitor should have rights of audience in the higher courts is a technical matter which only legal practitioners can understand. The interviewees in the survey are laymen,' he said. 'I am disappointed that both the Law Society and the Bar have not been consulted, not even for discussion on how the questions should be sensibly drafted.' He had no doubt about the expertise of City University in carrying out the survey, which he believed had been conducted impartially.

'But it's the quality of the questions that worries me.' Legal legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said the Bar had written to Mr Mathews offering input in drafting the questions but had been rejected.

Earlier, Bar chairman Gladys Li had warned Mr Mathews to consult the association to ensure no presumptions and partial elements were built into the questions.

Mr Allcock said the legal profession had not been consulted because Mr Mathews wanted to carry out the survey independently.

'If the legal profession is not happy with the questions, they could attack the survey findings,' he said.

Whether solicitors should have extended rights of audience in the higher courts is one of the controversial issues in the Attorney-General's Green Paper on legal services.

The Government suspended its proposal on the issue in February pending results of the survey after strong opposition from the Bar.

It is understood Mr Mathews is planning to present the Government's position on whether solicitors should have the extended rights and charge property buyers, in accordance with the current fee scale for conveyancing, to Legco in the third week of next month.