Hong Kong needs more facilities for people to settle their disputes outside the courtroom, Bar Association chairman Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said yesterday. Mr Yuen said providing more premises for mediation and arbitration was essential if the city was to realise its goal of becoming a legal services hub. Legislative changes to enable the growth of alternative dispute resolution techniques was pending, but Mr Yuen said Hong Kong still lacked sufficient physical infrastructure to provide the services. 'Alternative dispute resolution such as mediation cannot be properly promoted unless there are suitable venues,' Mr Yuen said. He said the government may be concerned about limited land and financial resources. 'However, the economic benefits and competitive advantages that will be brought about by the establishment of a dispute resolution centre far outweigh the cost consideration.' In his legal year opening address, Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang stressed the availability of alternative options 'is plainly in the public interest ... it must now be regarded as an indispensable feature of a credible legal system'. He said Mr Yuen's call for more premises was 'something that is worthy of consideration'. The chief justice also noted that reforms to the civil justice system were on schedule, except for a practice direction requiring lawyers to offer mediation to clients. That would be delayed until January 1, 2010, he announced. Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung noted a 'global trend in favour of the use of mediation', and said the government would fully support its development Legal-sector lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said Mr Yuen's call for better mediation facilities and the postponement of the practice direction were probably related. 'Mediation itself still has a long way to go,' said Ms Ng, adding that the public were also still relatively unaware of the concept of mediation. She said public confidence in the judiciary would be eroded if lawyers were forced to encourage more use of mediation, when in fact the facilities for mediation were not yet adequate, or the public lacked confidence in the new arrangements. In his speech, the chief justice also noted that the implementation of civil justice reforms, which would place greater emphasis on mediation, was likely to face 'teething problems'. He had therefore set up a committee to monitor the reforms and to make suggestions to ensure their effective operation.