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Hong Kong courts

Charge HK$100,000 for Hong Kong judicial reviews — and deny legal aid, group urges

Public Law Milestone’s report also hopes to see government enjoy ‘fast track access’ to appeal review cases

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 8:17am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 9:15am

A social group has proposed that anyone challenging government decisions by seeking a judicial ­review be made to pay a HK$100,000 deposit and not be ­allowed to claim legal aid.

The government, meanwhile, should enjoy “fast track” access to appeal in such cases.

The Public Law Milestone – founded by two solicitors, a retired civil servant, a retired professional and a pro-establishment district councillor – said some applicants could now “challenge the government at no cost” and with the help of political parties.

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One example raised in its report released on Sunday was that of Kwok Cheuk-kin. Kwok, 78, has filed more than 30 applications since 2006, challenging policies ranging from ferry fare rises to the joint checkpoint plan for the cross-border rail link to Guangzhou.

The group put forward eight suggestions to force applicants to “exercise prudence and due diligence when deciding whether to … challenge the decision of the government”. The end result would be fewer applicants, a smaller caseload and quicker resolution of cases.

It suggested the HK$100,000 deposit on top of the existing fee of HK$1,045 per application.

Moreover, an applicant should not be allowed to receive legal aid from the government when applying. But even with legal aide, it said the applicant should be liable to pay costs.

On the other hand, the group said the government should be entitled to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal directly “in case of urgency or where it is a matter of paramount public interest”, such as “the continuity or progress of infrastructure projects”.

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When such circumstances arose, it proposed that the court fast-track court procedures for the government.

In 2016 a total of 228 applications for judicial reviews were submitted to the High Court, the second highest since 2002, according to the Department of Justice. Only 17 applications – 7 per cent of the total – were approved.

As for legal aid, 6.2 per cent of 437 applications were approved in 2016, according to the Legal Aid Department. In 2015/16, HK$29.4 million in legal aide was granted to individuals, including those who applied for judicial review.