Legal Aid Expansion
In this year’s Budget, we have finally seen a substantial increase in the annual budget for the Legal Aid Department which will be to the tune of an additional HK$117.5 million per year (i.e. +11.8%). These additional resources will be used to improve the efficiency of the Legal Aid Department which will hopefully address some of the long standing problems such as delay in payments to solicitors/counsel, and delay in approving legal aid applications. I have been working on this issue since I took office 7 years ago, and I will closely monitor the usage of these additional resources going forward.
On 25 Feb, I held a meeting with the Chief Secretary of HKSAR, together with the Chairman of the Bar and the President of the Law Society, to discuss ways to expand the scope of legal aid system so that more Hong Kong people could fall within its coverage. We have jointly presented proposals to the Administration, and are awaiting their response.
Extradition to PRC
I am sure most of you have followed the latest proposal by the HKSAR Government to allow extradition of HK citizens and foreign nationals to the PRC to face criminal trials. This proposal is deeply irresponsible and brings about a significant damage to our autonomy under ‘One Country, Two Systems.’
In the past month or so, I have reached out to numerous chambers of commerce, bar associations and foreign governments representatives to warn them about the serious implications of these proposals once implemented. During my recent trip to the United States, I met with officials at the White House and the State Department, and members of the U.S. Congress. The meetings all centred around the extradition issue and the state of ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ It is clear that the maintenance of the US-HK Policy Act, which is of vital importance to HK as an international city, is now on red alert due to recent developments. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China has issued a recent statement warning against the extradition proposals (click here).