The Secretary for Justice, Ms Elsie Leung today (January 14) said that the legal profession must adapt with the times in order to serve the community well.
Speaking at the Opening of the Legal Year, Ms Leung reiterated the importance of the opportunities that China's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) offered to the legal profession in Hong Kong.
She said that the Administration was actively promoting the idea of developing Hong Kong as a resolution centre for international trade disputes in the Mainland.
In addition to the existing arrangements for arbitral awards, "we are hoping to put in place arrangements for the reciprocal enforcement of certain commercial judgments between Hong Kong and the Mainland," she said.
Ms Leung also talked about the progress of the review of the legal education and training system. Two of the key issues addressed by the report were the length of the Bachelor of Laws degree and the future of the PCLL.
Ms Leung said there was growing support for an extension of the Bachelor of Laws degree to four years on the ground that it would give law students more time to reach the desired standards in various respects.
She also took the view that the alternative of a reform of the PCLL, instead of replacing it with a new Legal Practice Course, was worth considering provided there was a substantial input from the legal profession.
Regarding the civil justice reform, Ms Leung commended the Interim Report and Consultative Paper by the Chief Justice's Working Party on Civil Justice as thorough and thought-provoking.
In addition to reform to court procedures, Ms Leung said we should explore ways in which members of the community could resolve their disputes without going to court.
Two initiatives were taking place in this respect, both prompted by a motion debate in the Legislative Council, she said.
Ms Leong said the first initiative was to try to improve the delivery of free legal services within the community. "As many of you are aware, there are many organisations that provide free legal advice. These include the Duty Lawyer Service (managed and administered by the Law Society and Bar Association), and numerous non-government organisations. I would like to pay tribute to all those who so generously provided legal advice under these various schemes.
She added: "Free legal services are widely available, but we need to consider whether those services can be consolidated or streamlined, and whether resources can be more efficiently allocated. These issues are being examined critically by some of those who deliver the services. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Hon Margaret Ng and the Hon Audrey Eu in this initiative. My department will do what it can to promote any new arrangements that emerge."
Ms Leung said the second initiative was a proposed survey of the demand for legal and related services in the community. She said: "The precise objectives of such a survey need to be determined. In the course of the project on legal education, for example, it has been suggested that any informed decision as to reform requires a full and proper survey of the unmet legal needs of all Hong Kong's various social groups. This could help to determine appropriate curricula, and better integrate the legal profession and the universities into the lives of their communities.
"Another possible objective of such a review would be to ascertain how members of the community currently seek to resolve their legal problems; why they do or do not seek legal advice; and whether they feel barred from access to lawyers or the courts. A survey of this type might help in developing strategies, either for improving access to the courts or for diverting cases away from the courts into private dispute resolution forums.
"Research in this area raises complex issues and, in order to be effective, needs to be soundly based on empirical studies. My department is exploring this project further with the professional bodies and the universities, with a view to seeking a consensus on the way forward," Ms Leung said.
End/Monday, January 14, 2002