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Annual Report 2021 > 3. Duty Lawyer Scheme
3.1 The Duty Lawyer Scheme initially only provided free legal representation to defendants charged with six scheduled offences in three Magistrates’ Courts. This was subsequently extended to nine scheduled offences in 1981 and then to cover all adult and juvenile Magistrates’ Courts since 1983.
3.2 With the enactment of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance in 1991, the Scheme was expanded to offer representation to defendants in the Magistrates’ Courts “where the interests of justice require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it” (Article 11(2)(d) of Section 8 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383)).
3.4 The merits test adopted by the Scheme was based on the criteria set out by the Widgery Committee of the UK in 1966. The Committee stated that the proper scope of an adequate scheme of legal assistance was “to secure that injustice does not arise through an accused person being prevented by lack of means from bringing effectively before the court matters which may constitute a defence to the charge or mitigate the gravity of the offence”.
3.5 The Criteria (apart from means) for deciding whether a grant of legal representation for summary trials is “in the interests of justice” were stated by the Widgery Committee as follows:
3.8 The Duty Lawyer Scheme also assigns lawyers to advise defendants facing extradition and to represent persons who are at risk of criminal prosecution as a result of giving incriminating evidence in Coroners’ inquests. In 2021, there was no extradition case, two persons were legally represented in the coroners’ inquests.
3.9 With effect from 1 April 2014, the Duty Lawyer Scheme has been further expanded to provide legal representation in bail applications pending trial and sentence for Magistrates' Court defendants in the Court of First Instance of the High Court. Since the extension of this service with effect from April 2014, four defendants were represented by the Scheme in the High Court in 2021.
3.10 With effect from 3 April 2019, the Duty Lawyer Scheme has been further extended to cover contempt proceedings in the Competition Tribunal (s. 144(2) of the Competition Tribunal Ordinance Cap. 619) following the earlier extension of such proceedings in the Labour Tribunal (s.42 of the Labour Tribunal Ordinance Cap.25) and Small Claims Tribunal (s.35A of the Small Claims Tribunal Ordinance Cap.338) on 3 December 2018. So far no such case in these Tribunals has been referred to the Scheme.
3.11 In the year under review, a total of 18,679 adult and juvenile defendants (Appendix B-2, B-3, B-4 and B-5) were represented by the Duty Lawyer Scheme. Of the cases proceeding to trial with Scheme representation throughout, an overall acquittal rate of 85.23% was achieved.
3.13 Since the extension of the Duty Lawyer Service in October 2003 to cover legal representation in the Juvenile Court to children / juveniles under s. 34(2) of the Protection of Children and Juveniles Ordinance Cap. 213 of the Laws of Hong Kong, the Duty Lawyer Service so far has handled a total of 26,185 Care or Protection cases in the Juvenile Courts (Appendix B-6).