Chapter 2
Legal Aid Services

Legal aid business is conducted in the following service areas :

Application and Processing Services

A total of 21 173 applications for legal aid were received and 11 831 legal aid certificates were issued in 2009 :

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 dealt with by the Application and Processing Division.

Distribution of Applications Received for Civil Legal Aid in 2008-2009

Distribution of Certificates Issued for Civil Legal Aid in 2008-2009

Take-up Rate for Civil Legal Aid in 2008-2009

The Application and Processing Division also provides an information and enquiry service through the Information and Application Service Unit.  The Unit provides information and deals with enquiries from the public on matters such as the scope of legal aid, financial eligibility limits and application procedures.  In 2009, the Unit received a total of 42 232 enquiries.

Upon acceptance of an offer for legal aid, successful applicants are given the services of a solicitor and, if necessary, counsel to represent them in legal proceedings in the Coroner's Court, the Mental Health Review Tribunal, the District Court, the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal or the Court of Final Appeal.

Outcome of Cases Closed in 2009

*2008 figures in bracket

Refusal of Legal Aid

In civil cases, an applicant who is refused legal aid either on means or on merits may appeal to the Registrar of the High Court.  In respect of the Court of Final Appeal cases, the applicants may appeal to a 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.

Ms Jennie Hui Lai-yung
Deputy Director of Legal Aid/Litigation

Mr Thomas Edward Kwong
Deputy Director of Legal Aid/Application and Processing

Refusal Rate of Civil Legal Aid Applications in 2008-2009

Success Rate of Legal Aid Appeals in 2008-2009

*Note : The figures do not include appeals withdrawn.

Mrs Annie Williams Ka-ding
Assistant Director of Legal Aid/Application and Processing

Legal Aid in Criminal Cases

Criminal legal aid applications are processed by the Crime Section.

Distribution of Applications Received for Criminal Legal Aid in 2008-2009

Distribution of Certificates Issued for Criminal Legal Aid in 2008-2009

Take-up Rate for Criminal Legal Aid in 2008-2009

Refusal of Legal Aid

An applicant whose financial resources exceed the statutory limit may still receive assistance if the Director of Legal Aid is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of justice to grant legal aid.

If an applicant is refused legal aid because his case lacks merits, he can apply to the judge who may grant legal aid on his own initiative provided the applicant is eligible on means.  Applicants in cases involving a charge of murder, treason or piracy with violence may apply to a judge for the grant of legal aid, and for exemption of the means test and payment of contribution. 

In 2009, there were 19 refusals on means of which 18 were also refused on merits.  The Director, nevertheless, exercised discretion to grant legal aid in 63 other cases even though the means of applicants exceeded the limit.  14 applications were refused because the applicants concerned failed to supply the Director with the necessary information to conduct a means test.  There were 899 refusals because the applications lacked merits (887 for appeal cases and 12 for other cases).  Legal aid was granted in nine appeal cases by judges notwithstanding the Director of Legal Aid's refusal.

For refusal in respect of an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, the appellant may appeal to a Committee of Review 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.  In 2009, there was no appeal to the Committee of Review.

Ms Juliana Chan Oi-yung
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Application and Processing (1)

Refusal Rate of Criminal Legal Aid Applications in 2008-2009

Miss Linda Ng Wing-ping
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Application and Processing (2)

Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme

An applicant with financial resources exceeding $175,800 but below $488,400 may apply to pursue a claim involving personal injuries or death, medical, dental or legal professional negligence under the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme where the amount of the claim is likely to exceed $60,000.  Under this Scheme, legal aid is also available for Employees' Compensation claims irrespective of the amount of the claim.

This Scheme is self-financing and is funded by contributions paid by the applicants upon acceptance of legal aid and from percentage contributions payable by aided persons out of damages or compensation recovered in the aided proceedings.  The rate of percentage contribution is 10% of the damages or compensation recovered.  It is reduced to 6% if the case is settled before counsel is briefed to attend trial.

There were 170 applications made to the Scheme in 2009 and 121 legal aid certificates were issued.  An operational surplus of $0.2 million was recorded as compared with an operational deficit of $14.2 million in 2008.  As at 30 September 2009, the net assets of the Supplementary Legal Aid Fund stood at $87.8 million.  For details, please refer to Appendix 1.

Legal Aid Electronic Services Portal

Person over the age of 18 can submit pre-application information online for non-urgent civil and 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 a digital certificate issued by the Hong Kong Post and Digi-Sign.

The Legal Aid Electronic Services Portal (LAESP) also provided a means test calculator for members of the public to find out whether they would be eligible for legal aid on means if they apply for legal aid.  Members of the public can access the means test calculator in the Department's website at by clicking "Electronic Services" in the menu bar on the homepage.  In 2009, the means test calculator received 2 289 hits.

Legal Aid Assignments and Monitoring


Legal aid work is not distributed to counsel or solicitors on the Legal Aid Panel equally regardless of merit, the legally aided persons' interests being the paramount consideration.  Counsel or solicitors are selected having regard to their level of experience and expertise, the type 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.

Mr Allan Chan Wing-cho
Assistant Director of Legal Aid/Litigation

March 24
Deputy Director of Legal Aid/Policy and Administration, Mr William Chan (second from right) and Deputy Director of Legal Aid/Application and Processing, Mr Thomas Kwong (first from right), received a delegation of six members from Civil Justice Council, UK, to share insights and experience about civil justice reform in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Distribution of Civil and Criminal Assignments to Solicitors / Counsel in 2009

Ms Mo Yuk-wah
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Crime

The Departmental Committee on Monitoring Assignments to Counsel and Solicitors comprising of directorate officers and a representative from the Independent Commission Against Corruption and chaired by the Director of Legal Aid, ensures that cases are assigned in accordance with the established assignment criteria and guidelines.  It also considers reports on the unsatisfactory performance/conduct of assigned lawyers.  In 2009, on the advice of the Committee, the names of two solicitors were removed from the Legal Aid Panel.  At the end of the year, seven solicitors/counsel were put on the Record of Unsatisfactory Performance/Conduct.

The LAESP serves to provide a useful platform for conducting legal aid business in the areas of assignment and monitoring.  Practitioners can submit legal aid panel entry forms to the Department online.  Panel lawyers can also download data update form to update their particulars.  To facilitate the reporting of progress of cases, assigned solicitors/counsel can also submit their case reports through LAESP to the Department.

Mediation in legal aid cases

Following the implementation of the Civil Justice Reform (CJR) in April 2009, mediation became an integral part of civil proceedings.  As a result, funding support was made available to aided persons involved in civil proceedings including matrimonial proceedings to attempt mediation as an alternate means of resolving their disputes.

Lawyers acting for the aided persons had to obtain the approval of the Director of Legal Aid (DLA) before engaging a mediator by providing information such as qualification and experience of the mediator, hourly rate, estimated number of hours required for mediation and any other incidental expenses such as hiring of venue for mediation, the terms of payment of the costs of mediation and whether the aided person has been advised of the DLA's First Charge implications.

Between 2 April 2009 and 31 December 2009, funding for mediation was approved in 39 assigned out cases, out of which 12 were matrimonial cases.

Miss Betty Chan King-wah
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Kowloon Branch Office

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 2009, CLS took up 188 personal injury cases.  The total amount of damages recovered by the Section for aided persons was about $69 million, while profit costs recovered were about $9.1 million.  In 13 cases, damages in excess of $1 million were recovered on behalf of aided persons and in 3 cases, the damages exceeded $4 million.

Family Litigation

The Family Unit of CLS took up a total of 963 family cases during the year.  It also handled enforcement proceedings for the recovery of maintenance and costs in family cases litigated in-house.

Wages Claims

The Insolvency Unit of CLS assists employees referred by the Labour Relations Office of the Labour Department to recover arrears of wages and other employment-related benefits.

The Unit processes applications for legal aid from employees and 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 2009, 218 winding-up and 38 bankruptcy petitions were presented and 480 cases were referred to the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund Board.

In-house Criminal Litigation

Apart from processing legal aid applications for criminal cases including appeals, the Crime Section of the Litigation Division represents legally aided persons at committal proceedings in the Magistrate's 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.  It also acts as instructing solicitors in cases in the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal.

In 2009, some 85.2% of all criminal cases in the District Court in Hong Kong were legally aided, as were some 88% of criminal cases in the Court of First Instance.

Mr Chris Chong Yan-tung
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Civil Litigation 1

In 2009, the Section handled 2 096 cases in-house :

Related Legal Support Services


The Department's Costing Unit assesses all bills of costs submitted by assigned solicitors and attends taxation hearings. The Civil Justice Reform implemented in April 2009 encourages parties to reach early out-of-court settlements and replaces most of the oral taxation hearing by paper taxations. The number of assessments conducted by Costing Unit had increased substantially as a result.

Mrs Christina Hadiwibawa Cheung Ying-man
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Civil Litigation 2

Cases handled by the Costing Unit in 2008-2009


The Department's Enforcement Unit (EU) handles enforcement proceedings for the recovery of judgment debts and costs in legally aided cases.  In 2009, the EU was assigned 573 cases.  Some cases were settled upon the undertaking of the judgment debtors to pay by instalments.  Enforcement proceedings, nevertheless, had to be instituted in 472 cases.

Of the cases where enforcement proceedings were taken by the EU, about 66% of them were instituted within one month from the date the cases were assigned to the professional officers for handling.  The table below shows the length of time taken for enforcement proceedings to be commenced from the date of assignment:

In 2009:

 *2008 figures in bracket

The costs and damages recovery ratio for cases with enforcement action handled by the Department and finalised in 2009 is as shown in the chart below:

April 1
Assistant Principal Legal Aid Counsel/Application and Processing, Miss Linda Ng (second from left) and Legal Aid Counsel/Application and Processing, Ms Helen Choi (first from right), received two lawyers from Beijing (Mr Zhang Si Zhi and Mr Mo Shao Ping), organised by the China Human Right Lawyers Concern Group, and briefed them on Hong Kong legal aid system and its services.