AN old saying has it that justice delayed is justice denied. If this is the case, the state of justice in Hong Kong is a matter of grave concern. The territory's prisons hold more than 1,100 people awaiting trial. More than 120 of these people, who have yet to be found guilty of any crime, have been in custody for more than a year; 45 have been in jail for more than 18 months. The average waiting time from arrest to trial is now more than 12 months. This highly unsatisfactory state of affairs offends traditional notions of justice. The Common Law dictates that justice requires no unwarranted delays; the Bill of Rights provides for trials to be held without undue delay. As the South China Morning Post reports today, a man who spent 526 days in jail before coming to trial and being sentenced this week will ask the courts to order his release. Whether he should be freed is a matter for the Court of Appeal to determine. But it can be said generally that those concerned with the administration of justice have a problem on their hands and should start tackling it seriously. They have to ask if Hong Kong has enough judges to ensure that the courts can keep up with the workload. And they have to ask if the administration of the courts can be modernised and streamlined, so that cases can be heard more quickly. Inadequate courtreporting facilities, for instance, mean that senior judges have to take notes by hand during trials. This slows the trials, adding to the delays - and adding greatly to costs. Lawyers' time is not cheap and if trials take longer than should be necessary clients' bills blow out. If delays offend our notions of justice, unnecessarily high costs do so too. They act as a barrier to access to the courts in civil cases and to ensuring the best defence in criminal trials. The Government is in the process of appointing a judicial administrator who will have the task of making the courts run more smoothly and efficiently - and, therefore, more fairly. He or she will have a big job to do but it is one which must be tackled energetically and swiftly, to help maintain confidence in the law.