Opinions are divided over whether to make the Legal Aid Department independent from the civil service, according to Legal Aid Services Council chairman Lee Jark-pui. The council is studying a consultancy report which examines the feasibility of establishing an independent legal aid authority. Mr Lee said the council, which oversees the department and advises the Government on legal aid policy, was close to making a decision. He expected its report to be submitted to the Government before the end of next month. While he would not comment on council members' views, he said there were many factors to consider. The consultancy report says strengthening the council's resources and powers and making it the employer of the department's director and deputy directors would provide the best value for money. Mr Lee said removing a few posts from the civil service would be an unprecedented move. It would be unique to see some non-civil servants, who reported to the council, leading a group of civil servants. He said if they adopted this proposal, they would have to consider, for example, the recruitment procedure and whether this would be acceptable to department staff. Mr Lee said the call for an independent department was not unanimous. The views of lawyers and department staff were divided. Also, more than half of those surveyed in a public opinion poll believed the existing system operated independently. A government source said the department had been working properly and there had never been a strong community voice calling for an independent legal aid authority. He said it was also questionable whether an independent body would be fairer. The source cast doubt on the desirability of the consultants' recommendation of removing the department's top four posts. This would dent the morale of other department Legal Aid Department staff as they could never reach the top.