Calls to set up an independent legal aid body have been rejected. Officials said an independent body with an unlimited budget would be difficult to monitor. The decision drew criticism from legislators, the Bar Association and the Legal Aid Services Council, which advises the Government on the issue. It had recommended an independent body without a cap on expenditure. Director of Administration Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai said other jurisdictions with an independent body, such as Australia, Canada and Britain, faced pressure to contain costs and cut services. Some had chosen to cap spending on individual cases, while others cut services. Mrs Yau said there would be a problem of accountability if an independent authority was established. 'This includes the means to ensure effective use of resources and efficient operations of the authority, all of which are difficult to resolve,' Mrs Yau said. The interests of the applicants would be jeopardised. Actual expenditure on litigation for legal aid cases increased from $81 million in 1988-89 to $518 million in 1998-99. It is estimated to rise to $669 million this year. Mrs Yau said the Government would review the situation where 75 per cent of cases were briefed out to private lawyers to ensure a higher level of independence. She said a study commissioned by the council showed people were more concerned about the quality of service than the body's status. But Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said of the decision: 'I really feel like crying. 'Hong Kong people fear that it [the legal system] will be influenced by the mainland. You should not only study the funding and impact on the morale of the Legal Aid Department staff . . . You should also consider the impact on the legal aid applicants.' Legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who represents the legal sector, said: 'The independence of the legal aid body should not be linked with whether a cap should be imposed on its expenditure. They should not use this to threaten us.' The cost in Britain was much higher because the scope of service was wider than in Hong Kong, she said. The Legal Aid Services Council will discuss the decision on November 5. Bar Association chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah said keeping legal aid under the Government's wing would give an impression that it could not make independent decisions. Law Society president Anthony Chow Wing-kin said it was in the public interest to set up an independent legal aid body.