DISASTROUS'' is the word some in the legal profession are using to describe 1993. So bad, in fact, that academics are now warning the Legal Department and the judiciary to ''get their acts together'' or face a repeat performance this year. Long-winded barristers accused of wasting court time, illegal imprisonment, costly Queen's Counsel, lengthy trial delays, technical errors, a lack of expertise, and poor inter-departmental communication led to hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars being wasted last year. And on the eve of the ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year, academics, experts and legislators said proposals designed to improve the system had to be implemented immediately. One judge, who declined to be named, forecast further problems within the profession this year. ''All of these issues cannot be resolved overnight, the problem is simply too big,'' he said. ''Lack of finance, judges and resources have created a snowball effect which has put the whole legal system in a dire position. ''I would like to see a reduction in court delays, remand prisoners and wastage of public money. It is no good the respective leaders of the legal profession talking about measures of improvement, they must turn their words into action.'' A handful of changes aimed at solving some of the massive problems are already underway. The $31 million computerisation of the judiciary has been hailed as a promising step forward. Judges and magistrates have returned to the classroom for training and will be using computers in court for taking notes, storing precedents and typing judgments. The ''court leadership scheme'' has been launched in an attempt to make the system more efficient. Together with the appointment of a new senior judiciary administrator, the measures are expected to reform the judiciary, which has been accused of poor management, leading to serious overlisting of cases and delays in hearings. And many have applauded the long-awaited localisation plan. A series of intense courses are underway to groom the most promising locals to fill the spaces left by their expatriate counterparts come 1997. Liberal legislator Moses Cheng Mo-chi admitted there were serious problems facing the profession but stressed that measures designed to ease the problems were cause for optimism. He said the proposals needed to be implemented immediately. ''The unacceptable length of trial delays is interfering with the course of justice,'' Mr Cheng said. ''It does not matter how much finance is ploughed into the system, modernisation is what is needed. ''At last the judiciary and Legal Department have started to open their doors, the old-fashioned secretive side has disappeared. Both are funded by the public and are equally accountable to the taxpayer. ''Localisation, computerising the judiciary and the appointment of the judiciary administrator look promising and if implemented properly will undoubtedly improve things,'' the legislator said. ''The legal system had a disastrous year last year. A plan of action must be implemented straight away if the system is to get any better.'' Many in the legal profession will want to forget the past 12 months. The most notorious cases since the beginning of 1993 are: American businessman Robert Flickinger spent two and a half years in detention, becoming Hong Kong's longest-held defendant awaiting trial. He was released in September after a judge agreed minimal guarantees provided under the Bill of Rights had been violated, and the prosecution had been responsible for a catalogue of errors. More than 60 ''snakeheads'' had their sentences terminated by the Court of Appeal. The Governor's consent had not been obtained to prosecute, making all proceedings null and void. At least 100 other snakeheads are expected to appeal against their sentences following this landmark ruling. In July, seven Vietnamese members of the Boat 101 case were awarded damages after being illegally imprisoned for 18 months. The taxpayer footed the $20 million bill for the 121-day trial in the High Court which saw the complainants awarded minimal compensation. In November it was revealed the Legal Department spent $500 million between 1989 and 1993 contracting out cases to the private sector. Lack of expertise within the department was cited as the reason for the expenditure. The Legal Department footed a bill, believed to be $25 million, for the failed prosecution of Legislative Councillor Ho Sai-chu and his wife on a fraud charge. Statistics reveal more than 15 per cent of remand prisoners have been behind bars for more than a year. The Bar Association warns that Hong Kong's international standing and the administration of justice will be hurt by court delays. Hong Kong's costly Queen's Counsel quoted fees more than three times as much as their English counterparts to appear in a two-day murder appeal. Solicitors for appellant Ng Kam-chuen said in an affidavit that a briefing fee of $300,000 and a ''daily refresher'' of $50,000 was the average quote from five Hong Kong QCs. A bid by Ng's solicitors to employ top ranking British barrister Martin Thomas was turned down, even though the QC would have charged a fee of $114,300 plus travel and accommodation expenses. The Law Society called for restrictions on English silks to be relaxed and the implementation of a table of recommended fees. Last month Hong Kong judges pushed for a watchdog group to be formed to tackle the problem of long-winded barristers who wasted court time and clients' money. The call followed an unprecedented crackdown on verbose silks in England and Wales. One Hong Kong judge, who said a similar scheme was desperately needed in the territory, commented: ''The problem with long-winded barristers is far worse here. And some of the top, heavyweight QCs are the biggest culprits.'' The former attorney-general of Sri Lanka, Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who is now teaching law at the University of Hong Kong, was sceptical about the system improving and said the localisation issue had been ''blown up out of proportion''. ''The number of expatriate officers in the civil service is believed to be about 1.3 per cent or less,'' he said. ''About half this number is in the police force, while the remainder are lawyers and other professionals. It ought, therefore, to be a non-issue. But the issue appears to have been raised by legal officers, primarily in the context of their promotional prospects.'' Dr Jayawickrama also criticised the level of fees charged by Hong Kong QCs. ''The Government can influence the level of fees by making a massive expansion of legal aid services and legislating to abolish the 'closed shop' policy in the practice of law inHong Kong. ''The legal profession needs to recognise that if they price themselves beyond the reach of the ordinary person, they, and the system, may well become irrelevant and that will affect the whole social fabric of Hong Kong.''