RELATIVES of victims of the Kwun Lung Lau landslide yesterday branded the inquest into the five deaths a 'rubber stamp'. The criticism followed verdicts of accidental death in each case. And those verdicts have highlighted concerns in legal circles that inquests are becoming mere formalities, with juries prevented from returning verdicts that reflect the wider implications surrounding accidental deaths. A senior lawyer said the law was 'an ass' in relation to this case. Members of the landslide inquest jury found that 'certain human factors' had contributed to the disaster. They were referring to evidence that an engineer had wrongly estimated the width of the retaining wall which collapsed, and evidence that sewers had been leaking. But Coroner Ian Carlson told them there was no verdict in law that could reflect these factors. He said the jury could register their concerns in the form of a rider attached to the verdict. And the jury's rider did recommend the Government appoint an expert commission to ensure the estate owner, the Hong Kong Housing Society, takes steps to prevent a similar tragedy. The society, Hong Kong's biggest landlord apart from the Government, has already put forward its own list of recommendations. These were adopted by the jury, along with those of independent geotechnical expert Professor Norbert Morgenstern. After the hearing, Chan Kwok-kau, whose brother-in-law Chong Cho-kit and niece Sau-ying were killed in the landslip, said: 'The inquest was just a formality. But this accident could have been prevented.' Mr Chan, whose sister Chong Chan Lai-kuen, 37, is still in hospital after her left leg was amputated after the accident, said he would seek damages and hoped the matter would be settled quickly. Johnson Lock, whose sister Lock Bo-san, 27, also remains in hospital, said: 'This incident could have been avoided.' He added: 'The cause of the accident, I think, is related to some kind of negligence. I think the inquest should be able to look at the cause and make comments.' Legal sources said the problem was one that often confronted coroners' juries - there appeared to be a huge gap between a verdict of accidental death and one of unlawful killing. They suggested one answer might be to introduce a verdict of 'preventable death'. One senior lawyer said: 'The situation makes a mockery of the jury's function. I think the law is an ass in relation to this.' A leading barrister agreed: 'What the hell is the point in having a jury if the effect is going to be a rubber stamp? But what the coroner said is right. That is the law at the moment.' In his summing up, Mr Carlson told jury members that the law prevented them from returning any verdict which indicated civil liability. He said a verdict of accidental death would not prevent families of the deceased from seeking civil remedies. They would be 'perfectly entitled' to take such action before other courts. The coroner gave the jury the choice of returning either a verdict of death by accident or an open verdict. An open verdict, he said, would not be satisfactory from the public's point of view because it would leave the matter up in the air. Ng Yuk-wing, 26, Chong Cho-kit, 36, Chong Sau-ying, nine, Lee Chung-Kam, 79, and Chan Suk-lin, 23, died in the July 23 landslide. They were buried alive when a supporting wall next to a footpath on the Kwun Lung Lau estate collapsed. The court was told a combination of record rainfall, leaking sewers and a mistaken estimate of the wall's width had contributed to the disaster.