Forcing wealthy litigants to contribute to court costs would discriminate against the rich, legal experts said yesterday. They were responding to comments on Thursday by Mr Justice David Yam Yee-kwan, who presided over the probate action centred on Teddy Wang Teh-huei's $27 billion Chinachem empire. The 172-day civil trial involving Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum and her father-in-law was the longest in Hong Kong's history. Initially set down for 30 days, it caused a backlog of cases in the Court of First Instance and left Court 17 cluttered with legal documents, statements and exhibits. In the conclusion of his 576-page judgment, Mr Justice Yam said the Chief Justice's Working Party on Civil Justice Reform was addressing the circumstances that allowed the hearing to drag on for so long. 'No doubt many taxpayers will be asking the question as to why should the executive government provide the judicial service free of charge to everyone when in some cases the parties should, when they could, pay for the resolution of disputes in the court,' he said. 'No doubt certain drastic and innovative suggestions will be made in [the working party's] final report.' He said Mrs Wang's father-in-law, Wang Din-shin, was required to pay only $1,042, for the issuance of the writ, while Mrs Wang did not have to pay a cent to the judiciary. But an assistant professor at Hong Kong University's law faculty, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, said yesterday it would be difficult to set the benchmark for who was wealthy enough to contribute to court costs. 'A person has an entitlement to have their dispute heard before the court so . . . it is very difficult to introduce measures that you are rich enough to pay costs to the court,' Mr Cheung said. 'You can't say they are rich, they are not entitled to use the court system like everyone else. After all, the rich have contributed more than the ordinary person to Hong Kong's tax system.' Legislator and prominent barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said requiring people to pay court costs would discourage the public from solving disputes through legal channels. She feared it would impair the spirit of rule of law. 'The court is a very important part in our rule-of-law system. If people are afraid to go to court because of the high costs, it will damage our legal system,' she said. Ms Eu said the proposal might also put off foreign investors.