The legal aid scheme should be transformed into a legal aid fund operating on a conditional fee basis, Law Society vice-president Michael Lintern-Smith has suggested. The Legal Aid Department has experienced constant funding problems and the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid have been criticised widely as being too low. Mr Lintern-Smith suggested it would be better if the department became a government agency providing funding for litigation on a conditional fee basis. 'We could have some kind of means test to exclude the very rich and some contribution from the claimant to the fund. 'It would ultimately be cost-free to the government and thus taxpayers,' he said. The Legal Aid Department's Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme is already a self-financing programme that provides civil legal aid for certain types of cases for the 'sandwich class', whose income exceeds the ceiling for legal aid. A share of the damages recovered in these cases goes back to the scheme. But Mr Lintern-Smith suggested the scheme be expanded beyond the limited types of cases it covers and the means test be set very high. 'It is wrong in principle that only the very rich or the very poor in Hong Kong have access to justice,' he said. 'That has come about because the litigation process is extremely expensive - the courts are open to everybody, just like the Mandarin Hotel.' Mr Lintern-Smith added that such a scheme would prevent the rise of unscrupulous recovery agents who are not trained lawyers but offer legal services on a 'no win, no fee' basis.