Lawyer bodies call for independent legal aid authority

Lawyers say government department lacks independence and fails to meet public's needs

Jennifer Ngo

The city's law associations have reiterated their longstanding call for an independent legal aid authority to replace the government department that administers legal aid, saying it would give the public easier access to justice.

They criticised the Legal Aid Department for its perceived lack of independence and inability to meet the needs of the public.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, decried a "lack of proper provision of legal aid and access to justice in Hong Kong". The existing structure is "over-bureaucratic, often conflicting, and does not promote independence", it said.

The Bar Association, which represents barristers, who practise in higher courts, said the system impeded access to justice for people who are not well off. It stressed the importance of setting up an independent body separate from the administration that could negotiate with the judiciary and government agencies, including the Department of Justice, with as little bias as possible.

Both associations have been advocating an independent legal aid body since 1993.

A spokeswoman for the Legal Aid Department said a study was under way on the feasibility and desirability of establishing an independent legal aid authority.

The findings would be ready at the end of the year, she said.

Meanwhile, parties who are seeking out-of-court settlements can now turn to a new website to look for a mediator.

The site was launched three weeks ago. Users - a member of the public or a solicitor - can choose from the 100 mediators listed and e-mail the other party through the system. Registration is free for mediators.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Legal aid shake-up urged