Last minute bid to stay hearing fails

Mark Hughes

A LAST minute attempt was made to stave off yesterday's hearing by barrister Jerome Matthews.

He sought an adjournment while an appeal was held into whether Mr Ford could be granted Legal Aid.

He also told the court he was troubled by a letter sent to the Director of Legal Aid by solicitor Mark Side, who is acting for CLP and CAPCO.

The letter alleged that Mr Ford had been carrying out legal work in England despite claiming to the Legal Aid Department that he was unemployed and had no income.

Mr Matthews, a former colleague of Mr Ford who was lending his services free, described this charge as false and a grave accusation. He said Mr Side had mixed up his client with another Michael Ford, who was practising in London.

''These matters need to be investigated. I need to take full instruction on this,'' he said.

Mr Matthews also drew attention to an allegation that Mr Justice Sears had at an earlier hearing said that Mr Ford appeared to have no defence to the accusations against him.

He quoted from a court record dated August 9, 1993, in which Mr Justice Sears said: ''It would appear to me, although it is not necessary for me to come to any decision on it, that he [Mr Ford] does not have any defence at all to the plaintiff's claims.'' However, Mr Justice Sears dismissed the adjournment application and ordered the case to proceed. In any event, the Legal Aid appeal was dismissed.

The result of yesterday's case was that Mr Ford, who has petitioned for bankruptcy, was prevented from passing on information gained while retained by CLP and CAPCO; he will have to return any documents of theirs which he possesses; he will have to pay costs and ultimately he will have to pay damages. His assets will also remain frozen.

Mr Ford still has an action outstanding in Texas against Exxon Corporation, a shareholder in CAPCO. It was filed in Jim Wells County Court. Lawyers for Exxon then had it removed to the Federal Court and are seeking to have it dismissed on the grounds that Hong Kong, not Texas, is the proper place for the case to be heard.

Meanwhile, Mr Ford has sought to have the case returned to the County Court.

Mr Ford came to prominence when he alleged two company reports into the fatal Castle Peak power station explosion which contained references to faulty equipment and operating errors were not put before the original inquest into the deaths.

When news of this emerged, the Attorney-General ordered the inquest to be re-opened to admit these documents as evidence. The jury at the resumed hearing then overturned their original verdict of accidental death in favour of a verdict of death by lack of care.

Mr Justice Liu ordered the original verdict to be reinstated after a judicial review of the coroner's guidelines to the jury at the re-opened inquest.

The Legal Department has sought an appeal against the judicial review.