Legal aid granted to challenger in Link Reit case

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:00am

The woman who challenged the Link Reit privatisation has been granted legal aid to take her case to the Court of Final Appeal.

An independent review committee yesterday overturned a decision by the Legal Aid Department to refuse assistance to Lo Siu-lan.

She has seven days to file notice of an appeal against the decisions by two lower courts to throw out her challenge.

The Housing Authority said last night it hoped Ms Lo would decide soon on whether to proceed. Her previous applications to the Legal Aid Department for assistance were rejected.

High Court Registrar Christopher Chan Cheuk sat on the legal aid review committee with two nominees from the Bar Association and the Law Society. Mr Chan said they were unanimous in their decision to order the department to issue a legal aid certificate for the 67-year-old public housing tenant.

He supported his argument by quoting Doreen Le Pichon, a Court of Appeal judge, who said earlier that the decision to dismiss Ms Lo's appeal was reached with reluctance, and that she should be granted legal assistance.

In December, Ms Lo's court challenge to the privatisation of the Housing Authority's commercial assets forced the government to postpone its multibillion-dollar listing of the Link Reit, which was to take over the assets. Her judicial review case failed in both the Court of First Instance and Court of Appeal.

In a submission to the review committee yesterday, counsel for Ms Lo, Hectar Pun Hei, described the Housing Department's sell-off of its car parks and shopping malls as 'the most extreme privatisation project' he had seen in Hong Kong.

He said Ms Lo's case was a strongly arguable one, and there was a chance that the Court of Final Appeal would hold a different view from the judgments of the lower courts.

Mr Pun said the Housing Authority had breached its duty under the Housing Ordinance to provide housing to people in need. Instead, it was selling assets to a private company, which could sublet the properties at market rates rather than benefiting the underprivileged.

Legal Aid officer Chris Chong told the court the Legal Aid Department had sought an opinion from an independent senior counsel after forming its own opinion on Ms Lo's application.

'We remained open-minded and we were always prepared that the counsel might change his view ... But [he] came back with a consistent view that there was no merit in Lo's case,' Mr Chong said.