Last September, one of the city's most respected barristers made the unprecedented move of airing his concerns about aspects of the criminal justice system in the preface of a widely used and respected legal reference book. The comments were perhaps deliberately controversial; he said Hong Kong's conviction rate was so high as to be 'probably approaching that of North Korea', meaning that 'an arrested person is, statistically, almost certain to face imprisonment'. Even then, those remarks, especially the comparison of Hong Kong's criminal justice system with that under the dictatorship in North Korea, appeared to lack perspective, and Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang called it an 'ill-considered and intemperate outburst by the author'. The author, Clive Grossman, had cited figures from the Department of Justice that indicated a conviction rate of almost 95 per cent in the Court of First Instance and 93 per cent in the District Court. However, it was later revealed that when the cases involving guilty pleas were removed from the equation, the statistics were only 79 and 73 per cent respectively. A Law Society study has now found that Hong Kong's conviction rates are not in fact particularly high when compared with similar jurisdictions. Direct comparisons are not always possible with the data available from other jurisdictions because of the different ways a case is considered to have resulted in a conviction, but nevertheless it appears that the belief that statistically Hong Kong has worryingly high conviction rates cannot be supported. The Law Society should be applauded for taking the initiative to form a special committee to research this issue. Apart from finding out the truth about conviction rates in Hong Kong and other jurisdictions, it also highlighted the need for proper compilation of data for future analysis. The Bar Association also conducted supplementary research on the principle of trial by jury, recommending that the Legislative Council should seriously consider introducing jury trials in the District Court; currently defendants there can receive a jail sentence of up to seven years after a trial before a judge alone. Both professional bodies are continuing to contribute to Legco discussions on the issue, while the legal sector lawmaker, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, has also facilitated further debate on the issues within the whole legal community, including the Department of Justice. So while Grossman's comments have ultimately proved to be inaccurate, his willingness to speak out on the issue has had the desired result of sparking some much-needed reflection on our criminal justice system. Many lawyers still harbour anxieties about the system, and the legal community is right to aim for the highest standards in ensuring defendants receive a fair trial before being deprived of their liberty. Grossman's remarks were not limited to conviction rates. He was concerned at the use of witnesses who have been offered immunity from their own offences and who then have their own agenda when providing evidence for the prosecution. And he warned against a prosecute-all mentality in the Department of Justice. Comparison with North Korea was an inappropriate way of drawing attention to the issue, but Grossman's questions deserve continued debate. Many jurisdictions would look upon Hong Kong's criminal justice system with envy, but it is because of the likes of Grossman, and their belief that a single miscarriage of justice is one too many, that Hong Kong has been able to maintain its rule of law.