A radical simplification of civil court cases and tighter controls on what lawyers charge will be proposed today by a Judiciary think-tank that wants to bring down the high cost of litigation in Hong Kong. An interim report will list 80 proposals, introducing sweeping reforms on reducing the complexity of High Court civil litigation procedures and improving the court's case-management powers and seeking to establish benchmark fees for lawyers, a source told the South China Morning Post. A working party appointed by Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang last year examined civil justice reforms in other jurisdictions and had mainly adopted reforms conducted by Lord Woolf in England and Wales and enacted in 1999, the source said. A second source said the working party was seeking to promote cost transparency by requiring lawyers to disclose information on how charges are levied and on the estimated overall cost of litigation. It is also proposed that clients be empowered to challenge fees based on the amount of work done and the manner in which a case is conducted. The group, headed by Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu-oi, of the Court of Final Appeal, included six other judges, a barrister, a solicitor, representatives from the Department of Justice and the Legal Aid Department, a professor and a lay member. During the opening of the legal year last year, Chief Justice Li highlighted concern over the high cost of taking cases to court for members of the public. He has said imposing limits on fees in some cases would be considered and this could be done by establishing fixed or maximum costs depending on the amount at stake in a case or the type of action concerned. There have been frequent complaints that high litigation costs in Hong Kong make court action available only to the rich, with the complexity of the system also being seen as unfair to unrepresented litigants. It is believed the working party, which conducted an overall review of High Court procedures, agreed the civil justice system is too expensive, inefficient and incomprehensible to unrepresented litigants, and that the progress of cases is too easily open to manipulation by parties involved. It is proposed that courts should take a more active role in managing cases, rather than the parties concerned, such as by laying down an effective timetable with appropriate directions. The working party also suggested the traditional principle of awarding costs to the party winning a case could be changed. Instead, the court should take into account the conduct of the parties before making a costs order. The interim report will be open for public consultation before the working party makes any recommendation.