February 18, 2005

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Pro bono

Hong Kong's finest legal minds gathered to wear silly wigs and gowns and open the legal year yesterday. The city may no longer be a British colony but by golly the judges and lawyers love an excuse for an anchronistic dress-up party. Chief Justice Andrew Li spouted the usual stuff...avoid political interference, no fear or favour, only serve the law. It's a noble intention, even if logically it makes no sense. Next the chairman of the Bar sounded dire warnings over the state of legal aid.

He said the [legal aid] scheme was no longer "up to the job of ensuring that lawyers, both barristers and solicitors, are fairly remunerated for the essential public service that they provide in defending persons accused of a crime".
I, like all of you, hate the idea that lawyers are not properly compensated for their "essential public service". So here's a few suggestions:

1. Create an independent Government financed agency that provides lawyers for those who qualify for legal aid. This way the essential public service that legal aid provides turns for a private sector subsidy into what it really is: welfare.
2. Abolish the distinction between barristers and solicitors. Whatever the historical background, there is now no reason to distinguish between the two.
3. Allow contingency fees - i.e. you get paid only if you win. Worries about an American style litigation explosion don't wash. If you bring a case and lose, costs can still be awarded against you to compensate the other side. On top of that there are laws to deal with vexatious litigation.

That's only a start. It's about opening up the profession to competition and the Government providing legal aid via lawyers rather than money. Any objections?

posted by Simon on 02.18.05 at 11:41 AM in the


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