Barriers to justice in Hong Kong
The Report identified that Hong Kong’s poor and vulnerable experience unmet legal need in a wide range of areas of civil and criminal law.
On top of that, there are substantial service gaps in the current legal system. The system is difficult to navigate, with no clear entry point for marginalised individuals or clear referral paths for community workers. Government Legal Aid focuses on representation at the proceedings stage rather than on assistance – yet there is a need for help with making the initial Legal Aid application. Indeed, there is limited access to early legal advice, or, in criminal cases, to a duty lawyer. Legal NGOs are hamstrung by the Law Society’s professional indemnity (PI) insurance policy which prevents their employed lawyers from holding a practising certificate.
The Report also found that regulatory barriers in Hong Kong constrain the legal profession’s capacity to do pro bono legal work. Current PI insurance rules restrict in-house counsel, retired lawyers and law professors from doing pro bono. There is also uncertainty around the rules on maintenance and champerty, and around the tax laws for charities.
By way of comparison, the Report looked at models of community legal assistance in five other leading common law jurisdictions: Australia, Canada (Ontario), Republic of Ireland, Singapore and the UK. It identified key features in these five jurisdictions that could likewise improve access to justice in Hong Kong:
- focusing on early legal assistance;
- continuity of care;
- delivery of services by a mix of staff including public interest and pro bono lawyers; and
- funding from a range of sources.
Drawing on its findings, the Report makes 24 recommendations for government, the legal profession, civil societies and universities. One central recommendation is the establishment of community legal centres:
Community legal centres have proven to be an effective vehicle for delivering legal assistance in other jurisdictions, enabling the community to access legal advice in a timely fashion, and to obtain guidance in navigating the complicated legal system as a whole. [Recommendation 5]
The Report also recommends regulatory changes that allow legal NGOs to employ lawyers and access PI insurance, Similarly, in-house, retired and academic lawyers should be allowed to access PI insurance cover for pro bono work.
Pro bono conferences
Pro bono in the context of marginalised populations is a theme that will feature in the 6th Asia Pro Bono Conference, to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 30 September to 2 October 2017. The focus of this year’s conference is Strengthening the Pro Bono Culture: Unity and Diversity. To register for the conference, visit the conference website.
Further afield, registrations are also open for the 2017 PILnet Global Forum, to be held in Budapest from 16 to 19 October. Bringing together expertise and networks from Europe, Russia and Asia for the first time in 2017, the Forum will focus on “how we, as a global network, can reclaim law as a force for good, and find ways to collaborate in making law work for all.” Register for the Global Forum via the PILnet website.