HKIEd inquiry costs mount as schedule overruns The two academics at the centre of the judicial inquiry into alleged government interference in the affairs of the Hong Kong Institute of Education could find themselves out of pocket to the tune of HK$1.5 million each, their solicitor has said. HKIEd president Paul Morris and former academic vice-president Bernard Luk Hung-kay have had to pay for their own lawyers following a ruling by HKIEd's governing council that the institute would not fund separate legal teams for individual academics involved in the inquiry. 'These are not people of great wealth. They are academics,' their solicitor Colin Cohen said. The probe, which was launched by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in March, is into its 21st day of full hearings this morning. But with many of the key witnesses yet to give evidence, including education chief Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and his former deputy Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, it looks set to run until well beyond the end of the month as witnesses consistently spend longer on the stand than the commission's secretariat estimated. Professor Morris, who was the first to give evidence, spent seven days on the witness stand. Professor Luk, whose allegations form the basis of the inquiry, testified and was cross-examined over five. They have claimed to the inquiry that Professor Li attempted to force Professor Morris to accept a merger between the institute and Chinese University, and that Mrs Law asked the institute to fire four academics critical of education reforms. The commission is expected to deliver its findings by the middle of June, according to the deadline originally set by the chief executive. 'I think the ninth provisional schedule is a little bit optimistic,' Mr Cohen said, referring to the most recent witness timetable. A source close to the two professors said the prospective financial burden was beginning to take its toll. 'The costs are significantly mounting up,' the source said. 'While this process is taking far longer than expected, legal fees are based on days in court.' A fund set up to support their cause and a substantial anonymous donation sent directly to the two professors' solicitors have so far raised just over HK$700,000. But with their total costs estimated to exceed HK$3 million, they look set to have to meet the bulk of the costs on their own. 'The institute should be paying our costs. There is no reason why it should not,' Mr Cohen said. 'We put to it a fairly lengthy submission including advice from a leading counsel who said it should pay legal costs.' However, the request had been turned down again at a recent council meeting, he added. A spokesman for the institute confirmed the council had met to discuss the issue for a second time on April 21 and had voted against meeting the professors' fees. He stressed that the institute's legal advisors would continue to be available to all staff, including Professor Morris and Professor Luk, throughout the inquiry. The institute is represented in the inquiry by Patrick Fung SC, who stated in preliminary hearings he would represent the institute as a whole and take directions from the council. Mr Cohen ruled out any possibility the professors could be forced to withdraw from the inquiry for financial reasons. 'Will they pull out? The answer is no, they cannot. They have to fight this right to the end,' Mr Cohen said. The fund, which was set up by the University Education Concern Group and the Professional Teachers' Union, has so far received donations totalling just more than HK$400,000. A separate anonymous donation of HK$300,000 has also been sent to solicitors Boase, Cohen and Collins. Fung Wai-wah, PTU vice-president, said the union had received donations from several hundred individuals and organisations. 'We are very pleased that we have managed to raise over HK$400,000, but given that their target is over HK$3 million, you can see that we are falling short by a long way.' Professor Morris declined to comment as the inquiry was under way. Professor Luk, who retired on Monday, could not be reached.