Call to build up confidence in legal system

RELATIONS between barristers and solicitors had deteriorated and public confidence in the legal system had to be built up, the Bar Association was told yesterday.

The association chairman, Miss Jacqueline Leong QC, told yesterday's annual general meeting that a ''spirit of co-operation and understanding'' had developed between the Bar and the Law Society on matters of common interest and concern during the late 1970s and 1980s.

''This seems to have markedly lessened in recent years. Hongkong needs the two branches of its legal profession to approach the uncertain times ahead with maturity and balanced consideration,'' she said.

Miss Leong said the Law Society Council had worked on its fused legal system proposal for 12 months, yet the Bar did not know about it until the society issued its booklet on January 12.

The Law Society has proposed scrapping the distinction between solicitors and barristers, and giving them equal powers to appear in courts. Proponents say this would make legal services more accessible to the public, and cheaper. Barristers would no longer have the monopoly on the right to appear in the High Court and Court of Appeal, and solicitors would no longer be needed to act as intermediaries between clients and barristers.

Miss Leong acknowledged that fusion could reduce the opportunity for touting, and payment of unethical commissions by legal professionals. She said both the Law Society and the Bar Association should look at this together, but would not suggest a date.

She said the Bar had set up a sub-committee chaired by former Bar chairman Mr Anthony Rogers QC to examine the fusion proposal.

The Bar would look ''at several aspects relating to the legal system'', but she would not detail how wide-spread its work would be.

Miss Leong said every aspect of the legal profession should be independent, and the Legal Aid system had to be made autonomous from the Government to boost public confidence in the legal system.

Both branches of the profession had called for Legal Aid to be administered through an independent Legal Aid Commission, but the Government had been non-committal. The Government is reviewing Legal Aid and the input of the legal profession would be sought in the course of that review.

Miss Leong also said the Chief Justice had recently announced a study into use of Chinese in the District Court, and the Judiciary was promoting greater use of Chinese in the Magistrates Courts. This could make the system more accessible, but English would always be the basis for the Common Law system.

The increased use of Chinese in the Courts and the legal system would make the legal process more accessible but had its limits, she said.