The case of the judge who got it wrong

Court of Appeal warns against taking too long to hand down judgments after lapse of memory blamed for former colleague's mistake

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 4:03am

The Court of Appeal has stressed the importance of handing down rulings quickly after the "unfortunate" case of the High Court judge who got it wrong - probably because of a lapse of memory.

While the appeal court's decision yesterday to overturn the ruling did not name who was responsible, records showed it was former High Court deputy judge Ian Carlson and the judgment in question was not handed down until 10 months after the hearing.

Carlson, no longer a judge, was appointed last April as a chairman on both the Market Misconduct Tribunal and the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal, with Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah saying: "Judge Carlson's experience in the judicial service will contribute to the effective operation of the tribunals."

In yesterday's judgment, chief judge Andrew Cheung Kui-nung wrote: "This litigation, rather unfortunately, serves as an illustration of the importance of delivering judgment without undue delay and of the duty to give adequate reasons."

The appeal stemmed from a suit between a yarn trader and a knitwear manufacturer over substandard goods and overdue payments.

The trial lasted 12 days and the judgment was handed down 10 months later.

In an apparent bid to set a good example, the appeal judges handed down the judgment less than a week after they heard the case last Friday.

Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon wrote that a critical issue and a clear summary of the case was omitted, as well as reasons for preferring one witness above another.

"The unsatisfactory state of affairs is compounded not only by the delay in the delivery of the judgment, but also the mistake in the figures of the damages awarded," he added.

The Court of Appeal set aside the judgment and ordered that the case be sent back for a retrial.