Stop abuse of legal aid and judicial review

Updated: 2017-02-21 07:39

(HK Edition)

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Stop abuse of legal aid and judicial review

The High Court on Monday threw out applications by three lawmakers-elect for review of the Legal Aid Department's refusal to grant them legal aid to fight their disqualifications as Legislative Council members in court. The Chief Executive and the Department of Justice (DoJ) mounted a legal challenge to disqualify Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu Chung-yim and Nathan Law Kwun-chung as legislators for allegedly violating Article 104 of the Basic Law and section 21 of the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance while taking the LegCo oath last October. The High Court decision is a timely affirmation of public objections to the increased and politically motivated misuse of legal aid and judicial reviews in recent years.

Lau, Yiu and Law are three of four lawmakers-elect who face disqualification as LegCo members in court following two of their comrades' disqualification for the same reason earlier this year. The "odd one out" is Leung Kwok-hung, also known as "Long Hair". He was granted legal aid. Many Hong Kong residents applauded the High Court's rejection of the appeal by Lau, Yiu and Law for legal aid to fight their oath-taking case, because they see no merit in their demands for legal aid, either.

Legal aid, in theory, is for those who cannot afford proper legal counsel. This principle alone means most if not all lawmakers still on government payroll are not eligible for legal aid because they are millionaires. However, the Legal Aid Department has granted legal aid for judicial reviews that turned out to harm the public interests in recent years. Some cases resulted in billions of dollars in public resources being wasted. The most notorious example has to be the judicial review filed by an elderly woman against the environmental assessment report of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge project some years back. This is because the case delayed the completion of the bridge for more than a year and billions of dollars were wasted as a result.

Members of the public view the government's bids to disqualify misbehaving lawmakers-elect as a show of commitment to upholding the rule of law and serving the public interest. That is why they applaud such moves by the CE and DoJ. Likewise, the public overwhelmingly hailed the High Court's rejection of requests by Lau, Yiu and Law to review the Legal Aid Department's refusal to grant them financial assistance because people believe these three people broke the law and therefore deserve to be disqualified as lawmakers. And to the relief of the public, in this case the misuse of legal aid has been prevented.

(HK Edition 02/21/2017 page8)