Is the British Queen’s Counsel better than local legal professionals in Hong Kong? It seems that the Department of Justice (DOJ) thinks so.
The department paid HK$470 million (US$60.64 million) for legal consulting services provided by foreign professionals, including a member of the Queen’s Counsel, on several major cases in recent years, based on the DOJ budget for the 2014/15 fiscal year, 43 percent more than the actual expenditure of HK$328 million in 2013/14, Apple Daily reported on Thursday.
The budget allocated for such outsourcing activities is HK$530 million for 2015/16, compared with HK$283 million in 2012/13, the newspaper said.
The DOJ consulted a member of the Queen’s Counsel in several high-profile cases, including two corruption cases that led to the filing of charges against former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and former head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Timothy Tong, as well as in another case related to the alleged assault on a pro-democracy protester by seven police officers.
In addition to the consultation, the department also hired several British royal barristers to represent the government in several other major cases and paid them huge sums in litigation fees.
Legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who is also a barrister, criticized the DOJ’s practice of seeking foreign legal opinions or hiring foreign barristers, saying it was totally unnecessary as far as some cases are concerned, such as the one involving the seven policemen.
Some cases are not that complicated and local professionals’ opinions would be quite enough, Kwok said, adding there are enough lawyers in Hong Kong who the DOJ should consult first.
While agreeing that seeking legal opinions from foreign professionals can help provide the DOJ with an image of impartiality, solicitor Jonathan Man Ho-ching said local lawyers should be preferred to foreigners when hiring for trials.
He said the department may use outsourcing as an excuse to delay a decision on whether or not to prosecute a case.
Replying to a query from the newspaper, a DOJ spokesman said outsourcing depends on how serious, complicated, sensitive and time-consuming a case is and expenditures allocated for outsourcing are flexible in view of uncontrollable factors.
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