Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Email this article
LCQ7: Court waiting times

     Following is a question by the Hon Chung Kwok-pan and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 18):


     In recent years, the waiting times for hearing of some court cases have been longer than the targets set by the Judiciary. In 2014-2015, the Judiciary plans to create additional judicial posts and other support staff posts, in order to relieve the pressure of inadequate manpower and shorten the waiting times for hearing of cases. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given the indication by the Judiciary Administrator that judicial workload has been persistently heavy, whether it knows if the Judiciary will, in the long run, expedite the handling of cases by improving the workflow or the deployment of resources, apart from enhancing its manpower provision; if the Judiciary will, of the details; if the Judiciary will not, the reasons for that; and

(2) whether it knows if the problem of inadequate manpower in the Judiciary has impacted on the time taken by the courts to deliver judgments on cases after the conclusion of their hearings; of the respective times taken on average by various levels of courts to deliver judgments on cases after the conclusion of their hearings in the past three years, with a tabulated breakdown by year and by type of cases; whether the Judiciary has set any target for the time taken for delivery of judgments; if such a target has been set, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Administration has consulted the Judiciary on the questions raised. The Judiciary has provided the following information:

Part (1)

     First of all, it should be noted that in the past three years:

(a) The court waiting time targets for the Court of Final Appeal, the District Court (including those for the Family Court) and the Magistrates' Courts (except for summons) and specialised court and tribunals have all been met;

(b) The pressure areas largely concern the Court of Appeal and the Court of First Instance of the High Court where waiting times have exceeded their targets. This is due to more complex, lengthy and refixed cases. It is 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; and

(c) The average waiting times for summonses in the Magistrates' Courts exceeded the target mainly due to the increase in the caseload or the more complex nature of disputed summonses.

     It should be noted that despite the above-mentioned manpower constraints, the Judiciary considers it to be of paramount importance that the high standard of quality in the administration of justice should be maintained. To enhance the manpower situation and to improve the waiting times for the High Court and the Magistrates' Courts, the following measures have been/will be made:

(a) The 2013 open recruitment exercise for the Court of First Instance Judges has been completed. Appointments from this recruitment exercise have been and will be announced as they take effect. It is planned that the next Court of First Instance recruitment exercise will be launched in the latter half of 2014;

(b) The Judiciary is in the process of conducting open recruitment exercises for both Permanent Magistrates and Special Magistrates with a view to filling the existing vacancies in the Magistrates' Courts;

(c) The Judiciary also completed an establishment review of Judges and Judicial Officer (JJOs) posts in 2013, which concluded that additional judicial posts at various levels of court are needed to cope with the increased workload at the High Court and to cater for JJOs at all levels of court attending training and judicial education sessions. As a result, the Judiciary will be seeking the Legislative Council's approval for the creation of seven JJO posts, including three posts for Justices of Appeal of the Court of Appeal of the High Court; one post for a Judge of the Court of First Instance of the High Court; one post for a Judge of the District Court and two posts of Magistrate; and

(d) In the interim, additional deputy judges have been and will be appointed to sit at various levels of court as appropriate with a view to improving the waiting times.

     Apart from the above, the Judiciary has implemented and will be implementing the following measures to improve the efficiency of court procedures and operation so as to enhance the quality of its service.

(A) Civil Justice Reform

     The Civil Justice Reform (CJR) came into effect on April 2, 2009. This major reform applies to civil proceedings of the High Court and the District Court, except for specialist lists to which application of the new rules will be determined as appropriate by the Judges concerned. Some of the new rules and procedures also apply to the Lands Tribunal and the Family Court with necessary modifications.

     The objectives of the CJR are to:

(a) Preserve the best features of the adversarial system but curtailing its excesses. One of the primary ways to achieve this is by promoting the use of greater case management powers by the courts. This would prevent tactical manipulation of the rules to delay proceedings and also ensure that court and judicial resources are fairly distributed;

(b) Streamline and improve civil procedures; and

(c) Facilitate early settlement by parties, eliminate unnecessary applications and, where appropriate, penalise such applications.

     So far, the implementation of the CJR has been carried out smoothly and satisfactorily. With the court's encouragement, more and more people are considering mediation as an alternative method of dispute resolution. Further, parties to the legal proceedings and their legal representatives now increasingly recognise the need for the court to exercise greater case management powers. They are therefore more cost-sensitive in making applications to the court, and adjournments of trials have been less frequent. There are also fewer interlocutory appeals. With measures such as sanctioned payments and sanctioned offers, parties (particularly defendants) are more willing seriously to consider settlement early. Cases are generally settled at an earlier stage.

(B) Information Technology Strategy Plan

     The Judiciary is in the process of implementing an Information Technology Strategy Plan (ITSP) for the application of information technology (IT) to facilitate its operations in the years ahead.

     The primary objective of the ITSP is to provide more effective and efficient services to all stakeholders in support of the administration of justice through the application of up-to-date technology to enhance logistical support to JJOs, court staff and court users and through process re-engineering brought about by the wider use of IT. It is envisaged that many of the court and related ancillary processes could be performed in a more effective and efficient manner by the introduction of e-services on various fronts.

(C) Other capital projects

     The number of courtrooms available at various levels of court poses constraints on the deployment of additional judicial resources to help improve court waiting times. To provide additional courtrooms and associated facilities to meet growing court services requirements, the Judiciary is in the process of carrying out two major capital projects:

(a) The relocation of the Court of Final Appeal to No. 8 Jackson Road (where one additional courtroom will be provided); and

(b) The construction of the West Kowloon Law Courts Building to re-provision and co-locate the existing (i) Tsuen Wan Magistrates' Courts; (ii) Small Claims Tribunal; (iii) Coroner's Court; and (iv) Obscene Articles Tribunal (where a total of 12 additional courtrooms will be provided).

     It is expected that with the completion of the above two projects, court services and operational efficiency will be further enhanced at the respective levels of court.

     In relation to the question of more space for the Judiciary and the need for adequate resources to meet the growing demands for court services, the Chief Justice has written to the Chief Executive. The executive authorities have been extremely receptive to a meaningful dialogue with the Judiciary on these topics. It is recognised that an efficient and independent Judiciary is cardinal to the rule of law, and that the executive authorities ought to render all necessary support to promote the effective, efficient and fair administration of justice in Hong Kong.

     Finally, the Judiciary will continue to monitor the situation closely and deploy resources as appropriate so as to keep waiting times within targets.

Part (2)

     With regard to the delivery of judgments and decisions, it should be noted that:

(a) Judgments and verdicts in criminal cases are usually given immediately or within a relatively short time after conclusion of the proceedings; and

(b) The position is the same for proceedings in the Small Claims Tribunal and Labour Tribunal where oral judgments are usually given immediately after the hearings.

     The Judiciary only keeps limited statistics on the time taken for the delivery of judgments for certain civil cases. For the past three years, the average times taken from the conclusion of substantive hearings to the delivery of judgments or decisions for civil cases heard in the High Court and the District Court are as follows:

Court Level/Type of Cases              Average Time
                                     (days) (Note 1)
                                    2011  2012  2013

Court of Appeal of the High Court
* Civil Appeals                       22    28    18

Court of First Instance
of the High Court
* Civil Trials/Substantive Hearings   58    69    45
* Minor Appeals (Note 2)              46    10    29

District Court
* Civil Trials/Substantive Hearings   28    26    38

Note 1: The currently available figures were captured on February 21, 2014.  
Note 2: Minor Appeals include Appeals from Labour Tribunal, Appeals from Small Claims Tribunal, Appeals from Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board and Miscellaneous Appeals.

     As to whether targets should be set for the delivery of judgment, it could be noted from the figures above that judges are expected to deliver judgments within a reasonable time, taking into account the complexity of the matter and other work commitment. It is not considered advisable to set standard target times given the enormous variety in the nature and complexity of cases. Nonetheless, the Judiciary is fully aware of the need for the timely delivery of judgments and Court Leaders will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that judgments are delivered within a reasonable time.

Ends/Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:25


Print this page