Early decision sought on status of barrister

THE Chief Justice, Sir Ti Liang Yang, yesterday agreed that the question of whether an overseas silk who is appearing before a tribunal is practising as a barrister or an assistant should be dealt with speedily by the Court of Appeal.

Sir Ti Liang said an appeal by the Bar over a justice's decision on the case would be heard on March 11.

Mr Justice Barnett said on Thursday that overseas QC Neville Thomas need not be admitted to the Bar because he was not acting as a barrister.

It is a criminal offence for a person to practise as a barrister in Hong Kong without being admitted to the Bar.

In a short Chambers hearing, Sir Ti Liang indicated it was a matter of public importance to resolve the issue.

The Building Appeals Tribunal, where Mr Thomas is appearing, started hearing the case at the centre of the dispute yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr Justice Barnett handed down his reasons for judgment yesterday, made public by consent of the parties.

He said Audrey Eu QC, for City West Investment Limited, had argued that Mr Thomas would not be practising as a barrister before the tribunal but as a person assisting the appellant.

Mr Justice Barnett agreed that the Buildings Ordinance provides that the tribunal shall permit the appellant to be assisted by other people as the tribunal thinks proper, which was not limited to counsel, solicitors or paid advocates.

Ms Eu said the applicants could have sought assistance from a surveyor or an architect and they would not have had to seek admission to the Hong Kong Bar Association.

Mr Thomas should not be at a disadvantage because he is an English barrister, she argued.

Denis Mitchell QC, for the Bar, had argued that Mr Thomas, an experienced barrister in this field, would be instructed by Hong Kong solicitors for a Hong Kong client, to appear before a Hong Kong tribunal to deal with Hong Kong law, and was therefore plainly acting as a barrister.

However, the judge found Mr Thomas would be doing no more than any ''other persons'' could do. He was there to render assistance to the appellant and it was a matter for the tribunal whether he should be allowed to present the appellant's case.

The judge ordered the Bar to pay the costs of the hearing.