A-G studies high cost of lawyers' fees

THE Attorney-General, Mr Jeremy Mathews, is looking at ways to make the legal service more accessible and affordable to the public.

In reply to a question from councillor Mr Lee Wing-tat, Mr Mathews said the Government was aware of public concern over the level of fees charged by lawyers and was considering a number of options.

One was to include lay members on the Costs Committee established under the Legal Practitioners Ordinance, he said.

Other options included the removal of certain disputes from the courts to specialised tribunals and the transfer of some matters from the High Court to the District Court.

He said the suggestion by Mr Lee to publish a list of fees as guidelines to the public was useful and he would pursue the matter in meetings with the Law Society, the Bar Association, the Judiciary and law teachers.

Mr Mathews said a comprehensive review of the law, policies and practices governing the provision of legal aid was under way to ensure public access to these services.

Meanwhile, councillor Mr Moses Cheng Mo-chi welcomed a plan that offered greater incentives for top law graduates to enter public service.

The Finance Committee two weeks ago approved five positions for trainee solicitors in the Legal Department, each provided with an honorarium of $21,700 to $22,700 a month.

The new Legal Trainee Scheme, which will replace two existing schemes run by the Government, will offer five more places by next year.

Mr Cheng said the optimum way to attract and maintain the best and brightest was to train them in-house, and the effort was long overdue.

He also called for a constant review of the remuneration level of trainee and newly-qualified solicitors working in the Legal Department so the Government could remain competitive in securing quality-candidates to work in the public sector.

Mr Cheng added he hoped the move would serve as a model for other departments to spur localisation of young professionals and civil servants.