Chapter 2  
Legal Aid Services
 

Legal aid business is conducted in the following service areas:
• Receiving and processing of legal aid applications;
• Assignments and monitoring of legal aid cases;
• Litigation services; and
• Related supporting legal services.

 

Application and Processing Services

In 2015, a total of 18 795 applications for legal aid were received and 9 579 legal aid certificates were issued:

 
 
  Mr Chris Chong Yan-tung
Deputy Director of Legal Aid
(Application and Processing)
 

Legal Aid in Civil Cases

Civil legal aid applications, apart from applications relating to wages claims which are processed by the Insolvency Unit of the Litigation Division, are handled by the Application and Processing Division.

 

Ordinary Legal Aid Scheme

The Ordinary Legal Aid Scheme (OLAS) covers many different types of civil cases which are closely related to the public's daily lives. Types of cases covered include family disputes, employees' compensation claims, personal injury claims, immigration matters and other miscellaneous proceedings in the District Court, the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal. It also covers applications to the Mental Health Review Tribunal and death inquests if the Director is of the opinion that the interests of public justice require legal aid be given.

 

Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme

Applicants whose financial resources exceed the statutory limit of OLAS of $290,380 but is below $1,451,900 may apply under the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme (SLAS). The scope of SLAS covers employees' compensation claims and representation for employees in appeals against awards made by the Labour Tribunal irrespective of the amount of the claim. It also covers the following types of cases where the claim is likely to exceed $60,000:

 
personal injuries or death, medical, dental or legal professional negligence;
 
professional negligence claims against certified public accountants (practising), registered architects, registered professional engineers, registered professional surveyors, registered professional planners, authorized land surveyors, registered landscape architects and estate agents;
 
negligence claims against insurers or their intermediaries in respect of the taking out of the personal insurance products; and
 
monetary claims against vendors in the sale of completed or uncompleted first-hand residential properties.


In 2015, there were 211 SLAS applications and 169 legal aid certificates were issued under SLAS.

SLAS is a self-financing scheme and is funded by contributions paid by the applicants upon acceptance of legal aid and contributions from monies recovered in the aided proceedings. The rates of contribution for personal injuries and employees' compensation claims and the provision of legal representation to employees for appeals against awards made by the Labour Tribunal range from 6% to 10%. For the remaining types of proceedings, the contribution rates range from 15% to 20%.

For the year ended 30 September 2015, a surplus of $2.3 million was recorded as compared with a surplus of $0.4 million in the year ended 30 September 2014 in the Supplementary Legal Aid Fund. As at 30 September 2015, the Fund had a balance of $189.1 million. For details, please refer to Appendix 1.

 

Distribution of Civil Legal Aid Applications Received in 2014-2015

 
 

Distribution of Civil Legal Aid Certificates Issued in 2014-2015


 
  Ms Mo Yuk-wah
Assistant Director of Legal Aid
(Application and Processing)

 
To facilitate the public to apply for legal aid, the Application and Processing Division also provides an information and enquiry service through the Information and Application Services Unit. The Unit deals with enquiries from the public on matters such as the scope of legal aid, financial eligibility limits and application procedures. In 2015, the Unit received a total of 37 153 enquiries.
 

Eligibility

Applicants regardless of their nationality or residence who pass both the means and merits tests will be granted legal aid. They are given the services of solicitors and, if necessary, counsel to represent them in legal proceedings conducted in Hong Kong courts.

 
Take-up Rate for Civil Legal Aid in 2014-2015
 
 
  Miss Ada Wong Yiu-ming
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel /
Application and Processing (1)
 

Refusal of Legal Aid

An applicant who is refused legal aid in civil matters on either means or merits may appeal to the Registrar of the High Court. In respect of the Court of Final Appeal cases, the applicant may appeal to a Review Committee comprising the Registrar of the High Court, a barrister and a solicitor appointed respectively by the Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association and the President of the Law Society of Hong Kong. The decision of the Registrar or the Review Committee is final.

 
Refusal Rate of Civil Legal Aid Applications in 2014-2015
 
 
Success Rate of Civil Legal Aid Appeals in 2014-2015
 
 
  Ms Amy Lee Ngar-ling
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel /
Application and Processing (2)
 
Outcome of Civil Cases Closed in 2015
 
 
  Ms Tse Sze-fong
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel
(Kowloon Branch Office)
 

Legal Aid in Criminal Cases

Criminal legal aid applications are processed by the Crime Section.

 
Distribution of Criminal Legal Aid Applications Received in 2014-2015
 
 
Applicants whose means exceed the statutory limit may be granted legal aid if the Director of Legal Aid is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of justice to grant legal aid.
 
Distribution of Criminal Legal Aid Certificates Issued in 2014-2015
 
 
Take-up Rate for Criminal Legal Aid in 2014-15
 
  Ms Juliana Chan Oi-yung
Deputy Director of Legal Aid
(Litigation)
 

Refusal of Criminal Legal Aid

If an applicant is refused criminal legal aid on merits, he can apply to the judge who may grant legal aid on his own initiative provided the applicant is eligible on means.

In 2015, there were 18 refusals on means, 17 of which were also refused on merits. The Director exercised discretion and granted legal aid in 30 other cases even though the means of the applicants exceeded the limit. 29 applications were refused because the applicants concerned failed to supply the Director with the necessary information to conduct a means test.

 
  Ms Sherman Cheung Suk-ying
Assistant Director of Legal Aid
(Litigation)
 
For refusal in respect of an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, the applicant may appeal to a Review Committee chaired by the Registrar of the High Court and comprising a barrister and a solicitor appointed by the Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association and by the President of the Law Society of Hong Kong respectively. The decision of the Committee is final. In 2015, no appeal was made to the Review Committee.
 
Refusal Rate of Criminal Legal Aid Applications in 2014-2015
 
 
  Mr Francis Chan Wan-kit
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel
(Crime)
 

Legal Aid Electronic Services Portal

Any person over the age of 18 can submit pre-application information online for non-urgent civil or criminal cases as a first step towards making an application for legal aid. To make use of this online submission procedure and to ensure confidentiality of information transmitted online, applicants must be holders of digital certificates issued by the Hong Kong Post or Digi-Sign.

The Legal Aid Electronic Services Portal (LAESP) also has a means test calculator, which allows members of the public to conduct a preliminary assessment of their eligibility on means if they apply for legal aid. Members of the public can visit the departmental website at www.lad.gov.hk or the mobile phone version to access the means test calculator. In 2015, the means test calculator and the mobile version means calculator received 5 740 and 5 334 hits respectively.

 

Legal Aid Assignments and Monitoring

Assignments

Legal aid work is not distributed to counsel or solicitors on the Legal Aid Panel equally. Interest of the legally aided persons is the paramount consideration. Counsel or solicitors are selected having regard to their level of experience and expertise, the nature and complexity of the particular case, with reference to established guidelines and criteria, which include, amongst others, minimum experience requirements, past performance records and the limit on assignments of legal aid work.

 

Distribution of Civil and Criminal Assignments to Solicitors / Counsel in 2015

 
 
 

The Department has set up the Departmental Committee on Monitoring Assignments to Counsel and Solicitors to ensure that cases are assigned in accordance with the established assignment criteria and guidelines. The Committee is chaired by the Director of Legal Aid and comprises directorate officers of the Department. It considers reports on the unsatisfactory performance/conduct of assigned lawyers.

In 2015, on the advice of the Committee, one counsel and six solicitors were put on the Record of Unsatisfactory Performance/Conduct relating to their performance in handling legal aid cases.

Since the assignment of legal aid cases is based on the experience of Panel lawyers in the past three years, the Department has regularly updated Panel lawyers’ experience to maintain the integrity of the legal aid assignment system. To remind Panel lawyers to update their personal particulars as well as their experience and expertise, the Department made corresponding enhancements to the Case Management and Case Accounting System in mid-2015.

 

Mediation in Legal Aid Cases

Legal aid covers mediators' fees and related expenses incurred by legally aided persons undergoing mediation in the course of aided proceedings. In 2015, funding for mediation was approved in 946 assigned out cases, out of which 118 were matrimonial cases.

 

Litigation Services

In-house Civil Litigation

The Civil Litigation Section (CLS) of the Litigation Division undertakes civil litigation for aided persons whose cases have been assigned in-house.

 

Personal Injury Litigation

In 2015, Civil Litigation (1) of CLS took up 205 personal injuries cases including employees' compensation claims, traffic accident claims and negligence claims. Damages over $1 million were recovered for aided persons in three cases. The total amount of damages recovered was about $29 million.

Legal costs recovered for the professional litigation work done by our in-house officers were about $6.1 million.

 
  Mr Steve Wong Yiu-fai
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel
(Civil Litigation 1)
 
Family Litigation

In 2015, the Family Unit of the Civil Litigation (2) of CLS took up a total of 1 070 family cases including divorce, maintenance, custody and property disputes. It also handled enforcement proceedings for the recovery of outstanding maintenance and costs in family cases litigated in-house.

 
  Mr Li Chi-keung
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel
(Civil Litigation 2)
 

Wages Claims

The Insolvency Unit of the Civil Litigation (2) of CLS assists employees referred by the Labour Relations Office of the Labour Department to recover arrears of wages and other employment-related benefits. It also handles the ensuing winding-up or bankruptcy proceedings.

Where there is sufficient evidence to support the presentation of a petition for winding-up or bankruptcy but it is uneconomical or unreasonable in the particular circumstances to institute court proceedings, the Unit will refer the case to the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund Board for consideration of ex-gratia payments to the employees.

In 2015, the Insolvency Unit took out 47 winding-up and three bankruptcy petitions. A total of 309 cases were referred to the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund Board for ex-gratia payments.

 

In-house Criminal Litigation

In addition to processing legal aid applications for criminal cases, in-house lawyers in the Crime Section of the Litigation Division also represent legally aided persons at committal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court, plea day hearing in the District Court, listing hearings in the Court of First Instance as well as bail applications at all levels of court. They also act as instructing solicitors in cases in the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal.

In 2015, 86% of all criminal cases in the District Court in Hong Kong were legally aided, as were 95.8% of criminal cases in the Court of First Instance.

In 2015, the Crime Section handled 1 843 cases in-house:

 
 
  Mrs Christina Hadiwibawa Cheung Ying-man
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel
(Legal and Management Support)
 

Related Legal Support Services

Costing

The Department’s Costing Unit assesses all bills of costs submitted by assigned solicitors and opposite parties, prepares lists of objections and bills and attends taxation hearings.

Cases handled by the Costing Unit in 2014-2015

 
 

Enforcement

The Department's Enforcement Unit (EU) handles enforcement proceedings for the recovery of judgment debts and costs in legally aided cases. In 2015, a total of 244 cases were assigned to the EU. In 162 cases, enforcement proceedings were instituted. About 48.77% of the proceedings were instituted within 1 month from the date the cases were assigned to the handling professional officers. The table below shows the length of time taken for enforcement proceedings to be commenced from the date of assignment:

Time taken for commencement of enforcement proceedings in 2015 :

 
 

Some of these cases were settled prior to the commencement of or during the enforcement proceedings when the judgment debtors undertook, through negotiation and production of supporting documents, to pay the outstanding amount by installments.

The costs and damages recovery ratio for cases with enforcement actions handled by the Department and finalised in 2015 is as shown in the chart below:

 

 

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