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Annual Report 2019 > 5. Free Legal Advice Scheme
5.1 The object of the Free Legal Advice Scheme is to provide, without means testing, free preliminary legal advice to members of the public who would not normally be able to afford fees for professional legal advice.
5.2 The aim of the Free Legal Advice Scheme is for volunteer lawyers to give one-off legal advice to help clients to understand the nature of their problems, their rights and obligations under the law and the channels available for resolution in genuine and not hypothetical cases. Advice given is of a general nature. Lawyers do not embark on a full analysis of the merits of the case or provide a full solution or acting as if they were the handling solicitors for the case.
5.3 At present, appointments can be made to see a volunteer lawyer at any of the nine District Offices of the Home Affairs Department in which Free Legal Advice Scheme operates advice sessions. They are situated in Shatin, Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong, Yau Tsim Mong, Wanchai, Central & Western, Islands, Eastern and Wong Tai Sin. With the exception of the District Office in Wanchai which operates thrice a week, District Office in Central & Western which operates twice a week, the other seven District Offices operate once a week (Appendix C-1). Members of the public can make appointments to see volunteer lawyers through one of the 25 referral agencies (154 branches). Members of the public seeking free legal advice (Appendix C-2) are also referred to these nine District Offices by referral agencies listed at Appendix C-3. Referrals by such large number of agencies ensure that this service is brought to the attention of all those who require such service throughout the territory.
5.4 Clerical staff at the District Offices and referral agencies conduct preliminary interviews with the applicants and prepare case summaries for transmission to the Duty Lawyer Service for processing and dispatch to volunteer lawyers. The Duty Lawyer Service will then arrange for volunteer lawyers to attend the advice session held at the District Offices.
5.5 Most of the advice sought are civil in nature which can be complex even though only small monetary amounts might be involved. The areas involved can be classified into the following nine main ones:
5.6 Legal advice is provided by the pro bono service of volunteer lawyers rostered by the Free Legal Advice Scheme. With effect from April 2019, a travel allowance of $500- was provided by Home Affairs Bureau to each volunteer lawyer attending a free legal advice session. There are 1,217 volunteer lawyers on the panel with 954 lawyers participating and giving advice in the year under review (List of Volunteer Lawyers in Appendix A-5). A total of 8,327 cases were processed and 7,256 applicants handled during the year (Appendix C-4).
5.7 The Free Legal Advice Scheme also assists other voluntary organizations by making arrangements for legal professional indemnity insurance to be extended to those volunteer lawyers who provide free legal advice in similar schemes independently run by the Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres, Action for Reach Out, Hong Kong Family Welfare Society (Mediation Centre) and the University of Hong Kong.
5.8 The Women’s Centres Free Legal Advice Clinic has been in operation under the Free Legal Advice Scheme since January 1992. The clinic is currently situated at Lai Lan House, Lai Kok Estate, Kowloon. The Clinic is opened every Tuesday evening and specializes in matrimonial and domestic matters. Clients are referred to the clinic by the Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres Women’s Help- line service. There were 49 volunteer lawyers of the Legal Advice Scheme participating in this clinic in the year 2019. During the year under review, 37 of them had given legal advice to 292 applicants at the centres.
5.9 The Free Legal Advice Scheme was extended on 12 November 2003 to the Free Legal Advice Clinic set up by Action for Reach Out. The aim of the clinic is to provide legal advice to female sex workers. There was 1 volunteer lawyer of the Legal Advice Scheme participating in this clinic in the year of 2019. During the year under review, no legal advice was given.
5.10 In early 2002, at the invitation of the Government, a pilot scheme was introduced under which law students participated in the Free Legal Advice Scheme of the Duty Lawyer Service at two District Offices. The primary duty of the law students is to conduct interviews with the applicants and prepare instructions for the consideration of the volunteer lawyers. During the year under review, 65 students had participated in this programme. At the request of the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, the Duty Lawyer Service has since 1998 been making arrangements for law students to attend the advice sessions with the volunteer lawyers at the District Offices. Their presence is subject to the consent of volunteer lawyers and applicants. During the year, 153 students had participated in the advice session as observers.
5.11 The Department of Professional Legal Education of the University of Hong Kong commenced its Free Legal Referral and Advice Scheme on the University of Hong Kong Campus on 19 January 2010. The service is opened to the public including University staff, University of Hong Kong alumni, students and their family members. Law Students conduct preliminary interviews with the applicants and prepare appropriate notes of the interview for the consideration of the volunteer lawyers. Legal Advice is given by law lecturers who are qualified Barristers / Solicitors and lawyers in private practice who are also volunteer lawyers under the Free Legal Advice Scheme. During the year under review, 64 of the 143 participating volunteer lawyers handled a total of 264 cases with legal advice given.
5.12 With effect from 26 May 2010, the Free Legal Advice Scheme was extended to the Free Legal Consultation Session set up by the Mediation Centre of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society. There are nine centres that offer individual interview by volunteer lawyers to people facing difficulties covering all kinds of legal issues. In 2019, 39 of the 44 volunteer lawyers had participated in this Consultation Session and had given legal advice to 592 applicants.