An Overview of the Department of Justice

The role of the Secretary for Justice

The Department of Justice is headed by the Secretary for Justice, who fulfils a wide range of duties. Chief among these is to act as the principal legal adviser to the Chief Executive, to the Government and to individual Government bureaus, departments and agencies. The Secretary for Justice is also a member of the Executive Council.

The decision to prosecute criminal offences is the sole responsibility of the Secretary for Justice who in this respect operates independently, free from any interference. The Secretary for Justice is also the defendant in all civil actions brought against the Government and represents both the Government and the public interest in the courts.

As guardian of the public interest in a wider sense, the Secretary for Justice may make application for judicial review to enforce public legal rights. The Secretary has a right to intervene in any case involving a matter of great public interest. The Secretary represents the public interest as counsel to tribunals of inquiry. The Secretary is the Protector of Charities and must be joined as a party in all actions to enforce charitable or public trusts. The Secretary for Justice also has a more general public interest role as amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court), the most important example of which is bringing alleged contempts of court to the notice of the courts.

Amongst many other functions, the Secretary for Justice is Chairman of the Legal Practitioners' Liaison Committee and the Law Reform Commission, Vice-Chairman of the Fight Crime Committee, and serves on the Chief Secretary for Administration's Policy Committee, the Judicial Officers Recommendation Committee and the ICAC's Operations Review Committee.

The Secretary for Justice's Office

The Secretary for Justice's Office provides legal and administrative support in respect of the Secretary for Justice's many functions. This includes assisting the Secretary in all matters related to the Executive and Legislative Councils, be it the promotion of legislation or providing answers to legislators' questions. Members of the Office ensure that the Secretary is fully briefed on the issues which arise, assist in the analysis of those issues, and help to prepare speeches and responses.

Information and public relations

The department considers part of its role is to promote understanding in the community of Hong Kong's legal system. To that end, the Public Relations and Information Unit of the Secretary for Justice's Office provides information to the public and the media about the work of the department through press releases, press conferences, and arranging for counsel to give media interviews and participate in TV and radio public affairs programmes. Arrangements are also made for counsel to contribute articles to newspapers on a variety of law-related issues. The unit also co-ordinates the preparation and distribution of educational materials and publications to introduce aspects of Hong Kong's legal system and foster commitment to the rule of law.

The Divisions

The lawyers in the department work within one of five distinct legal "divisions". These divisions are Civil, International Law, Law Drafting, Legal Policy, and Prosecutions. The legal divisions are provided with general support by the Administration and Development Division, which is headed by the Director of Administration and Development.

Each of the legal divisions is headed by a "Law Officer" who, as well as directing the work of their respective divisions, assists the Secretary for Justice in the overall management of the department. The Law Officers are the Law Officer (Civil Law) (who heads the Civil Division), the Law Officer (International Law) (heading the International Law Division), the Law Draftsman (who heads the Law Drafting Division), the Solicitor General (heading the Legal Policy Division) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (heading the Prosecutions Division).

While each of the legal divisions has distinct areas of responsibility, many issues arise where input from more than one division or specialist unit within a division may be necessary. In such cases, lawyers from each of the relevant units will work together to ensure that the client department or bureau is provided with comprehensive legal advice which fully meets the client's needs.

The Secretary for Justice and the department's divisional heads. From left: Solicitor General, Ian Wingfield; Secretary for Justice, Wong Yan Lung, SC; Law Officer (Civil Law), Benedict Lai; Director of Public Prosecutions, Grenville Cross, SC; Law Draftsman, Eamonn Moran, PSM, QC; Director of Administration and Development, Susie Ho; and Law Officer (International Law), Amelia Luk.