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LCQ8: Judicial manpower intake

     Following is a question by the Hon Sophie Leung and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 30):


     In recent years, there were some cases in which the higher courts overturned the original judgments when appeals were lodged by the parties concerned, and there were even cases in which the judges of the appeal courts criticised the trial judges for making mistakes.  Furthermore, according to a paper provided to this Council by the Judiciary Administrator in March this year, against the establishment of 189 judicial posts at that time, only 144 were filled substantially and there were 45 vacancies, and in 2011, 65 deputy judges and judicial officers (JJOs) were engaged to cope with the workload in all levels of courts.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the information on the appeal cases handled by various levels of courts (set out in the table attached);

(b) whether it knows if the Judiciary has compiled any statistics on the rate of erroneous judgments (including overturning original judgments, revising sentences, ordering for retrial, etc.) of various levels of courts; if it has, the details; if not, whether it will consider compiling and making public the relevant data; what mechanism is in place for the Judiciary to prevent judges from making errors in handing down judgment;

(c) whether the Government has assessed the impact (e.g. quality of the trial and waiting time for cases, etc.) of an almost 25% vacancy rate in the Judiciary; whether it knows if the Judiciary has any plan to expeditiously fill all the vacancies; and

(d) whether it knows the difference between the remuneration of deputy JJOs and that of substantive JJOs; of the number of deputy JJOs at present who have been appointed for more than three years; whether any restriction is imposed on the years of appointment for deputy JJOs?


     The Administration has consulted the Judiciary on the question and has received the following information:

(a) and (b) The Judiciary considers it important to note that in accordance with Article 92 of the Basic Law, all Judges and Judicial Officers (JJOs) shall be chosen on the basis of their judicial and professional qualities.  In judicial appointments, quality, and the highest standards of ability and integrity, will be maintained.  In accordance with the principle of judicial independence, any judicial decision shall not be interfered with and can only be subject to appeal or review under the judicial system in accordance with the law.  Such a right of appeal forms an important part of the judicial system for it allows a higher court to review the judgment of a lower court.  The appeal mechanism seeks to ensure that any failures or mistakes claimed to have been made in or in relation to a court hearing, or during an investigation, can be corrected by way of appeal to a higher court.  The appeal system is indeed an integral and essential part of our judicial system which underlines the administration of justice.  As a matter of open justice, court judgments, including those for all appeal cases, with reasons for the decisions, are normally pronounced or handed down in open court.  Judgments of the appellate courts are uploaded onto the Judiciary website and are accessible by all.

     Regarding the appellate caseload statistics sought in respect of the Court of Appeal and the Court of First Instance of the High Court, the available figures are set out at the Annex.  The Judiciary would like to point out that as a matter of policy, it does not maintain statistics on the results of appeal cases.  The success or otherwise of the appeals can be attributed to many different reasons, depending very much on the individual circumstances of each particular appeal case.  The Judiciary is of the strong view that statistics of such nature, if not interpreted carefully and correctly, can be misleading.

     All JJOs are well aware of their constitutional duty in adjudicating cases fairly and impartially, without fear and favour.  They also undergo continuous training and development to keep abreast of developments in different areas of law and judicial work.

(c) and (d) As at May 15, 2012, 148 of the 189 judicial posts are filled substantively and there are 41 vacancies.  It is noteworthy that 13 Permanent Magistrate vacancies cannot be filled for the time being (mainly due to constraints arising from insufficient courtrooms) pending the completion of the West Kowloon Law Courts Building by the end of 2015.  Accordingly, the total number of fillable vacancies for all levels of court is 28.

     Since the Chief Justice assumed office on September 1, 2010, the planning of judicial manpower intake has been one of his top priorities.  Under the Chief Justiceˇ¦s direction, follow up actions have been taken with a view to substantively filling the vacancies that the Judiciary had and would have by good quality candidates from both within and outside the Judiciary.  So far, the appointment of the Chief Judge of the High Court has been completed, three judges have been appointed as Justices of Appeal of the High Court and five Special Magistrates have been recruited from outside the Judiciary.  Currently in progress include three other open recruitment exercises for Judges of the Court of First Instance of the High Court (CFI Judges), District Judges and Permanent Magistrates.  It is expected that these recruitment exercises will be completed in 2012.  The Chief Justice is cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the on-going recruitment exercises and hopes that, upon their completion, most of the vacancies would be substantively filled by suitable candidates.

     As regards court waiting time targets, in 2011, the targets for the Court of the Final Appeal, the District Court (including those for the Family Court) and the Magistrates' Courts (except for summonses which marginally exceeded the target) and specialised court and tribunals have been met.  However, in 2011, the waiting times for cases in the High Court, both for the Court of Appeal and the Court of First Instance, have exceeded their targets in most of the cases.  This was due to more complex, lengthy and refixed cases.  It was also due to the temporary constraints in the deployment of judicial manpower in the High Court as a result of the retirement of Judges and elevation of Judges to higher positions.

     As far as the Court of Appeal is concerned, all judicial posts have been substantively filled since December 13, 2011.  However, there remains some backlog of cases which have accumulated over the past year or so, and the Chief Judge of the High Court is giving top priority to deploying judicial resources for hearing criminal appeals.
As regards the Court of First Instance, the lengthening of waiting times for cases in 2011 was partly due to the temporary shortfall of substantive judicial manpower.  The recruitment exercise for CFI Judges is in good progress and is expected to be completed in 2012.  To address the situation in the interim, the Judiciary has been making every effort to engage deputy judges who are considered suitable for appointment as Deputy High Court Judges from both within and outside the Judiciary to help reduce the waiting times.  

     The number of deputy JJOs appointed fluctuates according to operational needs.  The duration of their sittings also varies.  External deputies (i.e. members of the legal profession from outside the Judiciary) at High Court and District Court levels including the Masters' Office are normally each appointed for a few weeks at a time, whereas those at magisterial level are normally appointed for six month periods and may be re appointed.  It is important to note that only suitable eligible persons would be appointed as deputy JJOs.

     As at May 15, 2012, a total of 69 deputy JJOs were engaged to cope with the court's workload, comprising 33 external deputies and 36 deputies who were appointed from within the Judiciary to act in higher positions or cross posted to work in the High Court Registry (internal deputies).  Among them, six internal deputies and four external deputies have been appointed to their present offices for more than three years.

     The external deputies receive an honorarium calculated on a daily basis whereas internal deputies receive an acting allowance.

Ends/Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:31


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