Judiciary struggles to fill vacancies

The judiciary has yet to fill 60 vacancies, representing almost 30 percent of all its positions, according to a document sent to lawmakers. There are 222 posts in the judiciary, of which 60 are vacant, according to the document sent to the Legislative Council's finance committee on...

Maisy Mok

Friday, June 18, 2021

The judiciary has yet to fill 60 vacancies, representing almost 30 percent of all its positions, according to a document sent to lawmakers.

There are 222 posts in the judiciary, of which 60 are vacant, according to the document sent to the Legislative Council's finance committee on Wednesday.

As of March 31, 28 of the vacancies are in the magistrates' courts, the specialized court and other tribunals. Ten vacancies are in the court of appeal and court of first instance.

The remainder are in the masters' office in the high and district courts, with 13 and nine vacancies respectively.

The judiciary stated that it is currently in the process of recruiting judges for the court of first instance and district judges through an open recruitment exercise that was launched in November.

Recruitment for permanent magistrates will be conducted in the second half of this year.

The judiciary added a total of six court of first instance judges, five district court judges, and 14 permanent magistrates from the last round of open recruitment launched between 2018 and 2019.

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker and solicitor Holden Chow Ho-ding said there has always been a shortage of manpower in the judiciary due to heavy workloads.

According to last year's report on judicial remuneration review, the percentage of filled posts for judges and judicial officers between last March 31 and this year hovered at around 70 percent.

"Barristers can get a higher wage working outside the judiciary," Chow said.

A senior counsel, he cited as an instance, who is qualified to be a judge could earn more than a typical judge's wage, which is about HK$200,000 a month.

News of the vacancies came as former Eastern magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu, who was accused of a bias toward protesters, will be transferred this month to the coroner's court.

That is a second recent move for Ho, 39, who was transferred out of the magistracy to be temporary deputy registrar in the high court in September. That move took him away from hearing unrest-related cases and was estimated to have bumped up his pay from HK$60,000 to HK$80,000.

Sources said the term for his present position will end next Friday, and he will start at the coroner's court at West Kowloon law courts the Monday after that.

Ho's current position will be filled by Eastern magistrate Cheang Kei-hong for nine months until March 27.

Ho's transfer last year came after pro-establishment lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan accused him of bias when presiding over eight cases related to the unrest in a letter written to former chief justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li.