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終院首席法官馬道立 法律年度開啟典禮演辭

2016/1/11 — 18:00

馬道立(無綫新聞片段截圖)

馬道立(無綫新聞片段截圖)

【文:馬道立】

(演辭全文中文譯本)

律政司司長、大律師公會主席、律師會會長、各位嘉賓:

廣告

我謹代表司法機構全體仝人,熱烈歡迎各位蒞臨本年度的法律年度開啟典禮。藉此典禮,我們得以認真思考法律對社會的影響,以及司法機構和法律界在其中所擔任的角色。倘若社會大眾重視法治的概念,視之為本港社會的基石或支柱,就必須了解香港的法律制度,以及法院是如何秉行公義——畢竟,在概念上而言,秉行公義正是司法的目的。香港的法律制度以普通法為依據,並建基於其公平、透明及向法院提出訴訟之權利的特點上。當中最關鍵者當然包括那些與法律的運作、法院及法律界關係極密切的人士,但與此同時,社會上每一個人對法律的目的之理解和接納,同樣十分重要;這對具影響力或權力者而言(其中最主要的當然是政府及所有政府人員)尤為如是。法律旨在促進社會大眾的福祉,人們不應視之為阻礙。

我們可先從若干基本原則開始討論。人與人或機構之間的各類活動及複雜的互動,均受法律所規範,這是當然不過的事。其目標是讓市民大眾得以享有尊嚴的生活,讓他們及家人能盡展抱負,並使社會中人人互相尊重。要達成上述目標,就必須設立一套基礎架構,以確保有關目標能實現。

廣告

法律的基礎架構有一項重要的根本:就是所有法律必須符合若干最基本的要求,亦即憲法所規範及規定的要求。香港的所有法律均須符合《基本法》。眾所周知,《基本法》列明了市民的基本權利和自由,這些權利和自由均受到憲法的保障。《基本法》第三章列明大部分相關的權利和自由︰

(1)在法律面前一律平等:第二十五條。
(2)永久性居民的權利:第二十四條。此處包括遷徙的自由及出入境香港的自由:第三十一條。
(3)言論、新聞、出版的自由,結社、遊行、示威的自由:第二十七條。
(4)不受任意或非法逮捕、拘留、監禁:第二十八條。
(5)信仰的自由及宗教信仰的自由:第三十二條。
(6)選擇職業的自由:第三十三條。
(7)婚姻自由:第三十七條。

《基本法》另載有兩項條文,以規定香港的法律制度︰

(1)首先,除《基本法》的特定條文外,在香港實行的法律為原有的普通法及衡平法:第八條。眾所周知,這規定令香港成為一個普通法適用的司法管轄地區。

(2)其次,《基本法》第三十九條規定,《公民權利和政治權利國際公約》(公約)適用於香港的有關規定繼續有效,通過香港的法律予以實施。該公約通過《香港人權法案條例》(第383章)實施。《基本法》中對該項國際公約的提述值得我們留意。我較早前提及的各項權利中,也有不少同樣載列於該公約内。從《基本法》提述該公約這一點可見,我們在考慮那些在公約内載列的權利之内容及實質要義時,必須顧及其在國際上公認的法律理解。

要了解香港的法律制度,關鍵在於明白人人平等這個概念。我曾經說過,而不少人在這之前也曾經說過,法律對每一個人同樣適用。沒有任何一個人或任何一個機構是凌駕於法律之上、超出法律規範以外的。因此,政府及所有政府人員均一概受法律約束,與其他人並無分別。沒有任何特別團體、機構或人士是凌駕於法律之上或免除於法律的平等適用。人人平等是法治的一個基本要素。能正確地接納這點,才算是能正確地尊重法治。

接下來,我要談談法院在本港社會中的角色。只有當法律糾紛須要裁決時,法院才會擔任積極角色。這可能是在刑事案件中,法院就某人是否有罪作出裁決;也可能是在民事案件中,就一些通常關乎金錢或物業方面的民事權利作定奪;另外也可能是涉及公眾的案件,當中牽涉的不僅是訴訟各方的權利,而且或許更重要的,是牽涉整體的公眾利益。稍後我將就公法案件及司法覆核再作說明。

《基本法》清楚界定了法院的憲制角色︰香港法院享有「審判權」,而法院亦會獨立地司法。司法獨立的原則列載於《基本法》的三項條文之內。歷來已有不少關於司法獨立的言論,但永遠值得再三重覆的一點是︰司法獨立是法治的關鍵。

我現在談談上述基礎架構中關於法院的司法工作這部分。這方面指的是法院的日常運作︰法官如何依法秉行公義,其運作方式,以及訴訟人士如何向法院提出訴訟。

法院就法律糾紛作出裁決,就是《基本法》所規定的行使「審判權」之意。這是憲制責任。我要強調「法律糾紛」一詞,因為法院的工作是依法就糾紛作出裁決。訴諸法院的各類糾紛源自各式各樣的情況,其背後的動機亦各有不同。儘管如此,對法院而言,唯一有關的只是糾紛所引起的法律後果。正如我以前多次指出,法院只會處理須予考慮的法律問題。畢竟,這正是秉行公義的概念︰恪守法律、法律原則及法律精神。

法官在處理法律糾紛時,必須公平考慮訴訟各方的觀點。我剛才曾經指出,「公平」是香港現行法律制度中的主要特點之一,而為了達致公平,庭上各方的論據均應獲得充分和適當的考慮。有人說,所有訴訟人均應能「在庭上暢所欲言」,但更準確的說法,是訴訟各方均有權確保其陳述皆獲得聆聽。這是公平聆訊的精要所在。法庭審理的糾紛往往甚為複雜,必須細心分析不同觀點,然後才能作出公正的裁決。有時,聆訊的過程漫長,這從法庭的判案書的內容可見一斑,但箇中原因每每顯示涉案糾紛的複雜程度,並反映了更重要的一點,即法庭必須細心和公平地考慮在庭上提出的各項論點。這正好讓公眾明白,法庭是經過深思熟慮才達致其看法,並且行事公平。敗訴的一方有權知道敗訴的理由。公眾也有權獲得保證,法庭進行的聆訊必定是公平的聆訊。

法庭的工作和法官審理案件的方式須予公開,令人有目共睹,這點非常重要。司法公開是驗證本港法律制度是否有效及公平的客觀指標;又或可以說,司法公開是衡量法治的實際運作情況的標準。司法程序的透明度在我們的法律制度中至為重要:現時幾乎所有司法程序均會公開進行,幾乎所有的書面判案書皆會公開發布,這正正體現了司法公開。我說「幾乎所有」,是因為有少數的例外案件,涉及敏感的議題,若將之公開並不符合公眾利益。在此刻,我也想談談雙語制度和法庭的判案書。中文和英文均為香港的法定語文,因此,判案書有以中文也有以英文寫成的。如判案書具法律參考價值,便會被翻譯成中文或英文,藉以提高法院制度的透明度。

如前所述,法院行事的透明度,是一個有用而客觀的準繩,以衡量前述的法律基礎架構是否有效。然而,向法院提出訴訟的權利,亦即是本港法律制度的三個特點中的最後一個,也是不可或缺的。設立方便易用和具效益的法庭程序對此大有幫助,而這亦是民事司法制度改革的其中一個主要原因。民事司法制度改革推行至今已近七年,雖然仍有改善的空間,但我相信我們的法院和法官已成功克服了種種挑戰,這同樣也可以客觀地衡量。客觀性是很重要的。很多人有不同的觀點——這是他們的權利——但最終,不論這些觀點是正面還是負面,要對它們作出適當的評價,評價便必須客觀。

公眾向法院提出訴訟的權利的實踐,亦可按香港提供法律援助的狀況來衡量。多年來,法律援助讓眾多訴訟人獲得向法院尋求公道所需的途徑,他們包括嚴重受傷的人士、其家屬,婚姻出現問題的人士,以及其他需要法律保障但並無經濟能力聘請法律代表的人士。當然,在公法這個重要的範疇裏,法律援助對確保香港的公法和憲法的正常發展作出貢獻,因而有助加深我們對本港法律制度的了解。以下我將談談公法案件和司法覆核。

對公眾而言,這類案件最能夠展現和驗證公平、透明及向法院提出訴訟之權利這三大特點。公法案件往往關乎憲法方面的法律原則,故必然涉及公眾利益。因此,自一九九七年開始,香港的法院曾處理不同的憲法和公法爭議,當中涉及的事宜包括︰

(1)香港永久性居民所生子女在香港的居留權;
(2)言論、遊行和示威的自由;
(3)環保問題;
(4)婚姻;
(5)社會福利;
(6)選舉。

整體而言,公法案件涉及的正是受《基本法》保障的各項權利和自由,向來為社會大眾所珍視。這些權利和自由是社會上人人皆享有的,它們所反映的是基本的社會價值觀。社會人士對權利和自由的認識加深,意味着他們現時均會期望,決策者在作出一些影響本港民生和活動各方面的決定時,能夠克盡本分,承擔問責。公共事務範疇的決策者能克盡本分,承擔問責,這就是「良好管治」;而良好管治則是恪守法律規定及其精神的同義詞。換句話說,良好管治體現了法治的概念,亦正正是被稱為司法覆核的一類案件的精粹。這類案件大多涉及政府或某個政府部門,但也可能涉及其他公共機構。司法覆核案件必然牽涉公眾利益,而法院就這類案件作出的判決,其影響每每波及訴訟各方以外的市民大眾,有時甚至直接影響整個社會。不論案件是牽涉已經發生了的事情,還是未發生的事情,而後者比前者可能更為重要,法院就公法訴訟作出的判決,往往成為如何達致良好管治的指引。雖然訴訟過程偶爾會帶來不便,但整體而言,司法覆核維護了公眾利益,亦促進社會大眾的福祉,其重要的角色理應得到正確的肯定。

正正由於司法覆核如上述般涉及公眾利益,法庭在處理司法覆核案件時,必致力確保所有相關的法律論據均獲得陳述的機會,然後法庭才會作出判決。鑑於公法案件的爭持重點,往往涉及取向迥然的各種權利和自由,法庭所面對的,必然是艱深複雜的論據。與處理其他案件的情況一樣,法官必須公平地聆聽所有妥為陳述的觀點。剛才我曾經提及,公平的聆聽是法院秉行公義的特點之一。處理司法覆核案件的方式,亦是一樣。處理涉及公眾利益的爭議,更別無他法。

鑑於司法覆核這類案件的性質,政治、經濟和社會因素難免會構成案件背景的一部分。不過,正如終審法院前首席法官李國能和我本人分別多次指出,法院所處理的只是當中涉及的法律問題。訴訟各方的動機,不管是政治還是其他方面的動機,實在無關重要:關鍵的問題只有一個,就是法律上是否有充足的理據。只顧思索訴訟各方有何動機,對作出正確的判決結果毫無幫助。讓我重申這一點:司法覆核所關乎的,單單是受爭議的決定是否合法的問題,而非某項政治、經濟或社會論點的是非曲直。

正因如此,法院在處理司法覆核案件時,必須份外明察,確保只有合適的案件方可獲得處理。有別於大部分其他類別的原訴法律程序,司法覆核的申請必須在取得法院的許可後方可提出。申請須符合的標準由終審法院於二○○七年訂立,為一甚高的門檻,因為擬申請司法覆核的人士,須證明其論據是合理地可爭辯,並且具有實際的勝訴機會。終審法院闡釋如下:訂立有關「許可」的規定,「目的是避免公共機構因一些不可爭辯的挑戰而備受不當無理的纏擾。在法治社會裏,市民可以向法庭申請司法覆核,質疑公共機構的決定,這點固然極為重要;然而,為了保持良好的公共行政,以保障公眾利益,我們不應讓公共機構因為一些不可爭辯的申索,而在作出決定後不能確定其決定的有效性,我們也不應讓受到這些決定影響的第三者面對這些不明朗因素。」

若申請符合上述的門檻規定,法庭即會沿用處理其他案件的一貫方式,考慮所提述的論據,依法作出判決。香港具有完備的法律基礎架構,確保能夠達致這個結果。法庭的程序公開透明,大眾可以有目共睹,並在最後自行作出判斷。

法律對香港如此重要,因此我們司法人員的質素應盡可能達到最高水平。最近作出的多項司法任命已足以反映此點。不過,我們也有需要繼續留意實際的情況。為此,司法機構經過詳細的內部檢討後,最近致函政府,建議改善法官的服務條件。此外,我們現正就法官的法定退休年齡進行檢討,有關工作正逐步開展。這些事項對社會相當重要,能確保並鼓勵最優秀的法律人才加入司法機構。維持和提高司法機構的卓越質素,對履行前述的司法職能至為重要。

多年以來,政府一直全力支持司法機構的需要,我們心存感激,謹此致謝。在過去一段時間內,司法機構亦就法庭及辦公地方的中期和長遠需求,和政府展開磋商,而政府亦積極回應,予以支持。一如各位所知,終審法院已於去年九月遷往新址,即位於昃臣道的前最高法院。這是司法機構發展史上意義重大的里程碑。終審法院大樓是法治的鮮明象徵,人人皆有目共睹。今年稍後,位於深水埗的西九龍法院大樓亦將告落成。此法院大樓將設有裁判法院、小額錢債審裁處、死因裁判法庭和淫褻物品審裁處,提供需求殷切的空間,以確保這些法庭能有效運作。此大樓的建築設計亦配合法庭建築應有的莊嚴風格。

今天我嘗試向各位概述香港法院秉行公義的情況。無疑,當中會有可以改善之處,我們亦會積極求進;不過我相信,我們的制度架構優良穩健。公眾對法律制度的認識日益加深,我對此表示歡迎,因為這正是法律制度繼續行之有效和深受認同的關鍵所在。

我謹此代表司法機構祝各位和家人新年進步、萬事如意。謝謝各位。

 

(英文原文)

Secretary for Justice, Mr Chairman, Mr President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     On behalf of the Judiciary, I extend a warm welcome to all of you to this year's Opening of the Legal Year. This occasion enables us to reflect on the law's impact on the community, and on the roles of the Judiciary and the legal profession within it. If society puts any value on the concept of the rule of law as a cornerstone or pillar in our community, it is important to understand Hong Kong's legal system and how justice - for, conceptually, this is after all the purpose of law - is administered. Hong Kong's legal system is based on the common law and on that system's characteristics of fairness, transparency and access to justice. The key players include of course those who are most intimately connected with the law's operation, the courts and the legal profession, but of considerable importance is also the understanding and acceptance by everyone, especially those with influence or power (chief among whom is of course the Government and all those within it), of the purpose of the law. The law is there to facilitate the well-being of our society, and not to be seen as somehow obstructing it.

     One may perhaps start with certain fundamentals. Laws of course regulate the activities and the often complex interactions between persons or institutions. The object is to enable members of society to lead dignified lives, to enable them and their families to realise ambitions as best as possible, and to achieve mutual respect between all those within the community. To realise these objects, it is necessary to have in place an infrastructure to ensure that these objects can be fulfilled. 

     The infrastructure of the law begins with the important requirement that all laws must conform to certain minimum requirements; these are the constitutional norms and requirements. All laws in Hong Kong must conform to the Basic Law. As we all know, the Basic Law sets out fundamental rights and liberties which are constitutionally protected. Chapter III of the Basic Law sets out the vast majority of such rights and liberties:

(1) Equality before the law: Article 25.
(2) Rights of permanent residents: Article 24. Included here are the freedom of movement and the right to enter and leave Hong Kong: Article 31.
(3) Freedom of speech, of the press and publication, freedom of association, of procession and of demonstration: Article 27.
(4) Freedom from arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment: Article 28.
(5) Freedom of conscience and religious belief: Article 32.
(6) Freedom of choice of occupation: Article 33.
(7) Freedom of marriage: Article 37.

     The Basic Law also contains two provisions that help define Hong Kong's system of law:

(1) First, that the laws in force in Hong Kong shall be, apart from specific provisions of the Basic Law, the common law and rules of equity previously in place: Article 8. This makes Hong Kong, as everybody recognises, a common law jurisdiction.

(2) Secondly, Article 39 of the Basic Law provides that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force and be implemented through Hong Kong's laws. The ICCPR is implemented in Hong Kong by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance Cap. 383. The reference to this international convention in the Basic Law should be noted. Many of the rights I have referred to earlier are to be found in the ICCPR as well. The reference to the ICCPR suggests that in examining the content and substance of the rights contained in the Convention, one must have regard to recognised international jurisprudence.

     The concept of equality is key to an understanding of Hong Kong's system of law. I have said (as many have said before me) that the law applies equally to every person. No one person or institution is above the law and the application of the law. Thus, the Government and all within it are subject to the law in precisely the same way as everybody else. No special group, institution or person is above the law and the equal application of the law. Equality is a fundamental component of the rule of law itself. A proper acceptance of this means a proper respect for the rule of law.

     This brings me to the role of the courts in our community. The courts only become active when legal disputes require adjudication. This may be in a criminal context when the guilt of a person has to be determined. It may be in a civil context when civil rights, commonly about money or property, have to be resolved. It may be in a public context which engages not only the rights of the parties actually before the court, but perhaps more importantly, the public interest as a whole. I shall say more later about public law cases and judicial review.

     The constitutional role of the courts is clear from the Basic Law: Hong Kong courts have "judicial power" and the courts are to act independently. The independence of the Judiciary is enshrined in the Basic Law in three articles. Much has been said about the independence of the Judiciary but it always bears repetition to say that an independent Judiciary is pivotal to the existence of the rule of law.

     I move onto that part of the infrastructure that represents the practice of the courts. This is the day to day activity of the courts: what judges do in dispensing justice, how we do it and how litigants access justice.

     The determination of legal disputes by the courts is what is meant by the exercise of "judicial power" stipulated in the Basic Law. This is a constitutional responsibility. I emphasise the term "legal disputes" because the business of the courts is to determine disputes in accordance with the law. The types of dispute coming to the courts for determination arise from a variety of circumstances and the motives behind the cases brought in our courts also vary a great deal. Be that as it may, as far as the courts are concerned, it is only the legal outcome of the dispute that is relevant. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, courts only deal with the legal questions that arise for consideration. This is after all the concept of justice itself: the adherence to the law, legal principle and the spirit of the law.

     In the handling of legal disputes, judges must give fair consideration to the viewpoints of all parties. Fairness - one of the principal characteristics of the system of law in operation in Hong Kong I have earlier identified - requires that everybody who comes to court will have their arguments fully and properly considered. It is sometimes said that all litigants should have "their day in court", but it is more accurate to say that each party has a right to be heard. This is the essence of a fair hearing. The disputes before the courts are often complex, requiring different viewpoints to be carefully analysed before a just outcome can be reached. Sometimes, hearings can be lengthy and this is reflected in the judgments of the court, but the reason for this is almost always indicative of the complex nature of the dispute and, more important, the need to deal carefully and fairly with the arguments before the court. This is an indication to the public that the court has come to a properly considered view and has acted fairly. A losing party is entitled to know the reasons for an adverse decision. The public is entitled to be assured that a fair hearing is always guaranteed by the courts.

     It is important that the work of the courts and the way cases are handled by judges is open for all to see. Openness is an objective indicator to test the effectiveness and fairness of our legal system; if you like, it is a measure of the rule of law operating in practice. Transparency in the judicial process becomes critical in our legal system, and this takes the form of almost all court proceedings being open to the public or in the publication of almost all of the written judgments of the courts. I say "almost all" to exclude those few cases where the subject matter is of such sensitivity that it would not be in the public interest to make them public. I should also perhaps at this point say something about bilingualism and the judgments of the courts. Chinese and English are the official languages in Hong Kong so one will find judgments written in both languages. Where there are judgments of jurisprudential value, these judgments will be translated into Chinese or English, as the case may be, in order to enhance the transparency of the court system.

     Transparency in the activity of the courts accordingly provides a useful objective tool to measure the effectiveness of the legal infrastructure I have described. But there must also be access to justice - the last of the three characteristics of our legal system. The existence of user-friendly and effective court procedures contributes to this and was one of the main reasons for the Civil Justice Reform, which came into operation nearly seven years ago. Though there is still room for improvement, I believe that our courts and judges have risen well to the challenges, and this again can be measured objectively. Objectivity is important. Many people have different points of view - and they are entitled to them - but in the final analysis, the only way properly to assess these views, positive or negative, is to do so objectively.

     Access to justice can also be measured by reference to the existence of legal aid in Hong Kong. Legal aid has over the years provided the necessary access to justice for many litigants. These have included people who have suffered serious injuries, their families, those persons who have had matrimonial problems and other people who have needed the protection of the law but who did not have the private means to engage legal representation. Certainly, in the important area of public law, legal aid has played its part in ensuring that Hong Kong's public law and constitutional law have properly developed, thus helping us to reach a greater understanding of our system of law. It is to public law cases and judicial review I now turn.

     For the public, it is in this type of case where the three important characteristics of fairness, transparency and access to justice can best be seen and tested. Public law cases, very often with constitutional principles at stake, involve by definition the public interest. Thus, since 1997, Hong Kong courts have had to deal with constitutional and public law issues involving, for example:

(1) The right of abode in Hong Kong of children born to Hong Kong permanent residents;
(2) The freedom of speech, of procession and of demonstration;
(3) Environmental issues;
(4) Marriage;
(5) Social welfare;
(6) Elections.

     Public law cases on the whole involve the very rights and liberties that are protected by the Basic Law and which, as a community, we hold dear. These rights and liberties are enjoyed by every member of the community. They reflect fundamental societal values. A greater awareness of rights and liberties means that in the public sphere, proper responsibility and accountability for decisions affecting every aspect of life and activity in Hong Kong are now expected by the community. Proper responsibility and accountability in the public sphere is called good governance, and good governance is another term for an adherence to the requirements of the law and to its spirit. In other words, it embodies the concept of the rule of law. This is the essence of that type of case known as judicial review and, most often, this type of case involves the Government or a department within the Government, although it can also involve other public bodies. In judicial reviews, the public interest is always engaged and the effects of a decision of the court in this type of case will almost always affect sections of the public beyond the immediate parties in court. Sometimes, the whole community is directly affected. A decision of the court in public law litigation will often serve as a guide to good governance, whether looking at events in the past or perhaps more important, the future. Although there may occasionally be inconveniences, judicial review overall serves the public interest and facilitates the well-being of our society. This status should properly be recognised. 

     It is precisely because of the public interest being engaged in this way that in dealing with judicial review cases, the court will be anxious to ensure that all proper legal arguments are permitted to be ventilated before a decision is made. Owing to the fact that in public law case, reliance is often placed on various rights and liberties that operate in different directions, the court is faced with difficult and complex arguments. As in any other type of case, a judge must fairly hear all proper points of view. I have earlier referred to the aspect of fairness as being a characteristic of justice in the courts. Judicial review cases are certainly to be treated in no different a way. It cannot be otherwise when the public interest is engaged.

     It is inevitable given the nature of the type of case that is involved in a judicial review that political, economic and social factors form a part of the background to such cases. However, as both my predecessor Chief Justice Andrew Li and I have said on numerous occasions, the court is only involved in the legal questions which arise. It is usually simply irrelevant to inquire into the motives, political or otherwise, of the parties before the court: what matters are the legal merits. To be preoccupied with the motives of the parties before the court will not be helpful in reaching a proper legal outcome. I reiterate this point: that judicial reviews are all about legality and not the merits or demerits of a political, economic or social argument.

     It is for this reason that in judicial review cases, the court is required to be particularly astute in ensuring that only proper cases ought to be considered. Unlike most other types of originating process, the permission of the court is required before any application for judicial review can be instituted. The requisite standard - one that was laid down by the Court of Final Appeal in 2007 - is a high one because potential applicants are required to show their arguments to be reasonably arguable with a realistic prospect of success. The Court of Final Appeal reasoned as follows: the purpose of the requirement of leave "is to prevent public authorities from being unduly vexed with unarguable challenges. Whilst in a society governed by the rule of law, it is of fundamental importance for citizens to have access to the courts to challenge decisions made by public authorities on judicial review, the public interest in good public administration requires that public authorities should not have to face uncertainty as to the validity of their decisions as a result of unarguable claims. Nor should third parties affected by their decisions face such uncertainty."

     Where this test is satisfied, a court will proceed to consider the arguments in the same way as any other case to arrive at a result that is in accordance with the law. The infrastructure of the law is there to ensure such a result. And it is open for all to see and ultimately to judge for themselves.

     The importance of the law in Hong Kong makes it imperative that the quality of our Judiciary should be of the highest possible standard. Recent judicial appointments have reflected this. There is, however, a continuing need to be aware of practicalities as well. For this reason, following a detailed internal review, the Judiciary has recently written to the Government with proposals to improve the Conditions of Service of judges. There is also the ongoing review of the statutory retirement age for judges, as to which progress has been made. These matters are of considerable importance to the community to ensure and encourage recruitment of the best lawyers to the Judiciary. The maintenance and improvement of the calibre of the Judiciary is key to the judicial functions I have earlier described.

     The Government has over the years fully supported the needs of the Judiciary, and we acknowledge and are grateful for this support. The Judiciary has for some time also been discussing with the Government its mid- and long-term accommodation requirements, and the Government has also shown much support here. As you are aware, in September the Court of Final Appeal moved into new premises at the old Supreme Court located on Jackson Road. This was a significant milestone in the history of the Judiciary and the tangible representation of the rule of law is for everyone to see. This coming year will see the completion of the West Kowloon Law Courts Building in Sham Shui Po. This court building will house Magistrates' Courts, the Small Claims Tribunal, the Coroner's Court and the Obscene Articles Tribunal, providing much needed space for the effective operation of these courts. The architecture of the building is in keeping with the dignified stature of a court building.

     I have attempted today to give a brief overview of the way justice is administered in Hong Kong. No doubt improvements can be and will be made but I believe that structure to be sound. I welcome the public's greater awareness of our legal system, for therein lies the key to its continuing utility and acceptance.

     It only remains for me on behalf of the Judiciary to wish you and your families a happy and fulfilling new year. Thank you.

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