An announcement by the Justice Department that the public is to be consulted on Hong Kong's legal system is the latest initiative in what is beginning to amount to an attempt to bring about a radical shake-up of the entire practice of law. Examination of the system, from the training of professionals, to the charges faced by their clients and the ability of ordinary people to access justice, is long overdue and is good news for the public. The legal process in Hong Kong - particularly in the civil courts - has long been beyond the reach of too many people. And the familiar criticisms still hold true: too expensive, too slow and too complex. It now remains to be seen how easily radical change - which will no doubt be the inescapable finding of the public consultation exercise - can be introduced and how much opposition there will be from those within the profession with vested interests in the status quo. A consultation paper released by a judiciary think-tank in the latter part of last year was the second report to recommend fundamental change. Judges should have more power in controlling the progress of cases, legal costs should be slashed, there should be a crackdown on time-wasting tactics by lawyers, and more should be done to allow and encourage litigants to settle disputes before they reach the courts. These are fundamental recommendations that go to the heart of what is wrong with the legal system from the public's viewpoint. Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie has also indicated the need to align legal education with the actual needs of the profession and the public. An independent consultants' report released in July last year provided a foretaste of some of the unpalatable findings that are likely to emerge as reform continues: the report called for a flagship course at the University of Hong Kong to be scrapped; a post-graduate course, run by City University, was savaged and described as 'frozen in time'. A public consultation exercise is likely to reveal similarly damning opinions. But the rule of law is constantly cited as one of the cornerstones of Hong Kong's stability and success. If the phrase is to continue to be meaningful, it is vital that members of the public have timely access to justice at a price they can afford. It is to be hoped that the momentum of the Government's obvious determination to make this happen will continue.