FCMC No. 6671/1996
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE
HONG KONG SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGION
MATRIMONIAL CAUSES NO. 6671 OF 1996
|AU MIU LING
|WONG DING YICK
Coram: Master Barnes in Chambers
Dates of Hearing: 14 January 2000
Date of Handing down Decision: 19 January 2000
REVIEW OF TAXATION
1. The Petitioner was granted legal aid on 22.5.1996 to institute divorce proceedings against the Respondent. On 13.10.1997, the Petitioner was granted Decree Nisi while the custody of the two children was granted to the Respondent with reasonable access to the Petitioner. Costs was reserved. The issue of ancillary relief was not disposed until 19.3.1999 when the Respondent was ordered to pay a lump sum of $250,000 to the Petitioner. The Respondent was ordered to pay the taxed costs of the proceedings including the costs reserved.
2. In due course, the bill of costs prepared by the Solicitors representing the Petitioner was set down for taxation on 10.11.1999. As the Respondent was absent on that occasion, I granted leave for Ms. Davies of the Legal Aid Department to represent the Respondent and duly taxed the bill. Solicitors for the Petitioner being not satisfied with some of the items, applied to review my decision and the matter was heard on 14.1.2000.
3. Solicitors for the Petitioner has very helpfully prepared detailed written reasons why they objected to those items listed in the Objection to the Taxation. I will deal with each item in turn:
Item (1) and (3)
4. These concerned the Fee Earners. Objections were raised in respect of two fee earners, i.e. Mr. Solomon Chong (SC) who was admitted in 1983, and Miss Lily Chien (CL) who was admitted in 1981, regarding their hourly rates for work done after 21.7.1997.
5. It is argued that the case is complex in that the aspect of ancillary relief, in particular the estate of the Respondent's deceased father in China, was such that both SC and CL had to exercise particular expertise. Since both SC and CL had chosen not to claim an upwardly adjusted amount to reflect the same, but the ceiling amount applicable to a solicitor of over 10 years standing in accordance with the circular dated 1.2.1999 issued by the Law Society, a reduction of $200 upon taxation is unfair and inconsistent.
6. I accept that it is not usual in a case of this nature for the solicitors to trace assets of the deceased parent of a party. The need to investigate and trace those assets no doubt makes the Petitioner's application for ancillary relief more difficult. However, on the evidence before me, I do not accept that the case is complex. Having said that, I do accept that in view of the fact that both SC and CL are charging the normal rate for a solicitor of their respective standing, the reduction of $200 is indeed unfair to them. I therefore review my decision and allow their respective hourly rate at $2,600.
Item C(4) (1) & (3)
7. These claims arose as a result of the Litigation Clerk (LC) going to the PRC to conduct search and investigation regarding the assets of the Respondent's late father in the PRC. These claims were disallowed on taxation on the basis that they failed to pass the proper and necessary test. The Director of Legal Aid has given approval for the engagement of an agent in the PRC to do the necessary investigation and there was no reason why the LC needed to go.
8. For the purpose of the Review, Mr. Chong Chung Hing of the Petitioner's solicitors swore an affirmation dated 18th November 1999 setting out reasons why such costs should have been allowed on a party and party basis. Mr. Chong deposed that after the Director of Legal Aid had given authorization to retain an attorney in the PRC to conduct search on the PRC properties, the firm was not able to proceed due to the lack of complete addresses. The Petitioner was only able to give vague information which was not useful for the retained attorney to proceed. On the request of the China attorney, the Petitioner and a law clerk of the firm went to China to assist in the search. The Petitioner stayed for one day but the LC had to stay on for two more days, accompanying the China attorney to go from one government bureau to another. As a result of the fruitful search, the Petitioner obtained a lump sum award of $250,000 from the Respondent.
9. Ms. Davies relied on the GUIDANCE TO SOLICITORS HANDLING CIVIL LEGAL AID CASES issued by the Legal Aid Department and contended that the authorization of the Director of Legal Aid did not extend to such...