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Getting a Fair Hearing

Hong Kong's legal system is generally regarded as fair and effective, but no system is perfect as HKU's Clinical Legal Education (CLE) programme is showing.

Advice session of the Free Legal Advice Scheme on HKU campus

Advice session of the Free Legal Advice Scheme on HKU campus

Hong Kong's legal system is generally regarded as fair and effective, but no system is perfect as HKU's Clinical Legal Education (CLE) programme is showing.

The programme provides free legal advice to the general public, and in exceptional situations offers further legal assistance or representation to those who might otherwise be unable to afford such help. Since its founding in 2010, it has successfully appealed more than a dozen criminal conviction cases, and helped several clients to obtain legal aid that had earlier been rejected.

"There are still some miscarriages of justice in Hong Kong, notwithstanding our legal system is by and large quite good. We still see cases go wrong," said CLE Director Eric Cheung.

The service is operated under the Faculty of Law in collaboration with the Duty Lawyer Service and involves the combined efforts of students, experienced practicing lawyers and academic staff.

Senior students do initial interviews with the users of the CLE and learn under supervision how to deal with situations that fall outside of textbooks, such as how to handle client expectations and emotions and deal with clients who may have psychiatric problems. The actual advice-giving and other follow-up is handled by academic staff and volunteer lawyers.

"The students learn that as lawyers, the important thing is not so much that you can win the case. In many cases our advice is don't fight, don't litigate, the law is not on your side. You have to persuade the client not to pursue a hopeless case and know how to get that message across," Mr Cheung said.

The CLE has advised more than 750 clients over the years, to great success. Ninety-five per cent of those surveyed rated their satisfaction with the service as four or five out of a total five.

The service providers themselves have also enjoyed satisfaction from helping people who would otherwise have slipped through the net. For example, one man sentenced to eight and a half years in jail was initially refused legal aid for his appeal for lack of merits and he then contacted the CLE from Stanley Prison. After reviewing his case, the CLE team helped him to successfully obtain legal aid. Thereafter they were able to obtain from the Department of Justice materials which the police had failed to disclose before trial and which show that the main prosecution witness was lying. The man eventually had his conviction quashed on appeal, though in the meantime he had already been deprived of his liberty for 33 months.

"This was a clear case of miscarriage of justice," Mr Cheung said. "It's good that students can have a realistic understanding of how the system works and to see the satisfaction that derives from helping needy clients."

Mr Eric T.M. CHEUNG and team members in the Department of Law - Mr Edmond K.F. LAM and Mr Edward M.H. CHAN, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2015 of the Faculty of Law for 'Clinical Legal Education Programme'.

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