THE PRE-TRIAL REVIEW
Ben stood outside court on Tuesday morning. He had stayed up most of the night preparing for the pre-trial review, whilst waiting for Stan’s call. Worryingly, there had been no call. It was not like Stan. He could not afford to worry too much at this stage, though, the hearing was so important. It was mostly procedural stuff, but it had to be done properly. The Government would be represented by Senior Counsel Mr.Ronnie Yuen, who would also appear for the Government at trial. Ben knew that Judge Lee would be expecting Richard Yap to appear for the Clan that morning. Oh well, tough. Clients were not made of money.
His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Hi, Ben.” It was of course Mandy.
Ben had not seen or spoken to Mandy since the argument over Professor Cartwright. He had wanted to call her on many occasions, but never had. He was glad to see her though. Dressed in her professional outfit, she still looked terrific.
“Hello”, he smiled. “How are you?”
“OK”, she said. “This case is getting me down, though, there are so many documents At least I have my minions to help me, I don’t know how you do it.”
“Ah well, struggling through. I’m taking this hearing this morning, Richard couldn’t make it.” He did not want her to know that the Clan was running out of money. If they thought that, he suspected the Government would immediately make a series of ridiculous applications, simply to drain their funds further. It was in fact one of their big fears, and a tactic not unknown to the Government in previous cases.
“That’s a shame. Ronnie’s here for us. Gives me a rest!” she smiled. Ben hesitated.
“Look, Mandy, I know we had a little argument, but I have missed you. We’re both busy on this case, but I would like to see you again.”
“Ben, I’ve missed you too. I’d love to go out with you again. Tonight?”
“Well, I can’t tonight, and probably not this week, but can I give you a call?”
“Of course”, said Mandy, “make sure you do. I’m so sorry about Tyler, by the way. I don’t know him, but he must be a good friend of yours.”
“Yes, he is. He didn’t do it, Mandy. We’re trying to get him bail on Friday.”
“Good luck. Oh, here’s Ronnie, talk to you later, Ben.” She left to talk to her Counsel. Ben entered the courtroom, and sat in his place. Most surprisingly, Jacob and Wai had not turned up. They had not missed a hearing yet. Ben wondered whether this had anything to do with the kidnapping. A couple of minutes later, the Reverend Wah entered, and sat down in his allocated place. Ben nodded to him. He felt clients had little to fear from Wah. His case was weak, and he was unrepresented, due to lack of funds. At that moment, Ben felt some sympathy for Wah. Ronnie Yuen made his entry with Mandy and sat down, Mandy in the row behind.
Ronnie Yuen was a legend in the Hong Kong courts. He actually shared the same chambers as Richard Yap, but was far more experienced. Mike had to admit that although Richard Yap was well respected, and charged accordingly, Ronnie Yuen was regarded as possibly the best advocate at the Hong Kong Bar. Tall and handsome, with graying hair, Mike wondered for a moment whether Mandy was having an affair with him.
“Good morning, Mr. McCann”, said Yuen stiffly. “I gather we shall not have the pleasure of Richard this morning?”
“No, he isn’t available today, more’s the pity”, said Ben.
“Never mind, let’s get on with it.” He turned to Mandy and whispered something to her. Then all was silence as they waited for the Judge. A couple of minutes later, the Judge appeared.
Mike had to admit that his clients were fortunate in the choice of replacement judge. Judge Lee was renowned as a very fair man, with a good sense of humour. If they lost before him, then they deserved to lose. Short, fat and bespectacled, Lee’s eyes twinkled as he looked down at them all.
“Good morning everyone”, said the judge. “What shall we talk about this morning?”
Ben had in fact prepared a sheet of paper with proposed topics for agreement. He had faxed a copy to Mandy the previous day, who had agreed the same. He handed up a copy to the judge via his very attractive clerk, Lorraine. A worthy opponent for Mandy in the beauty stakes, felt Ben, before banishing such thoughts from his head for the time being.
“Very well” said the judge.” Let’s go through this. First, hearsay notices.”
As the hearing progressed, Ben became more confident. He had prepared well. Yuen made a number of preposterous suggestions which the judge quickly knocked back. They dealt quickly with hearsay matters, a site visit of the temple area, the calling of experts, and lay witnesses. Yuen objected to the number of Clan members Ben wished to call, but Ben was able to persuade the judge that they were all entirely necessary. After a few minor issues, the only one left was length of trial, on which Yuen had asked to be heard. Ben was not too concerned about this, as the length had already been fixed by Judge Chang, and the dates of trial set. Thirty days, beginning 3rd March. He wondered what Yuen’s point would be.
“My Lord”, said Yuen, “it is the 1st Defendant’s wish that the length of trial be extended.”
“Well, Mr. Yuen, we already have thirty days allocated. You consider this is not enough?” said the judge.
“That is the case, My Lord. We believe the trial is likely to go 80 days, if not longer.”
“What!” exploded Ben. “Sorry, my Lord, but that is a ridiculous suggestion. It is also the first time that this has ever been mentioned.”
“I’m sorry for perhaps bringing this up at the last minute, My Lord,” said Yuen, “ but I have carefully read all the witness statements again, and all the expert reports to hand. Submissions on this difficult and largely unexplored area of law are likely to be very lengthy. It is my opinion that the current time estimate is woefully inadequate. My Lord, this is not anyone’s fault. The expert reports now filed however demonstrate the likely issues between the parties, and how far they are apart. I am afraid we are heading for a part-heard trial and an adjournment if we start on 3rd March.”
Ben was so angry he could hardly speak.
“Mr. McCann?” said the judge. Ben stood.
“My Lord”, he said, “whilst it is true that all the expert reports were not before the court on the last occasion, I find the proposal of an 80 day trial outrageous, with the greatest of respect to Mr. Yuen. I submit this is a filibuster tactic by the 1st Defendant, simply to lengthen the proceedings, to ensure that my clients run out of funds before the end of trial. I cannot say, of course, how long the cross-examination of the Plaintiffs’ witnesses may take, but I am advised by Leading Counsel that our case will take no longer than 15 days to present.”
The judge frowned. “It does appear, Mr. McCann, that Mr. Yuen has a point. The trial is clearly going to overrun.”
“To that extent, I agree, My Lord. I would say however, that with written submissions taking the place of certain oral submissions, that the trial can be finished in 50 days, maximum.” Ben sat down, fuming.
“My Lord”, began Yuen, “I take great exception to my friend’s implication that I am attempting to deceive this Court. I am merely providing the court with my honest interpretation of events, and I must say...” The judge stopped him.
“Yes, yes, Mr. Yuen, I do not doubt your integrity. But, I am not going to give you 80 days.” He whispered to his clerk who passed up his diary.
“Yes...I can vacate certain matters...yes, I can give this trial 10 weeks, a total of 50 days, commencing 3rd March. If it is not finished then, it will have to go part-heard and recommence another day. Is that satisfactory to the parties?”
“Yes, My Lord” said Ben.
“My Lord, as long as everyone is aware of the implications, it is fine by me.”
The judge explained it all to Reverend Wah in Cantonese. He then had a final word.
“I look forward to seeing you all on 3rd March. It seems to me that this case has little chance of settling before trial, the parties being so far apart. I ask the parties to try their best in this regard, however, and at the very least try and agree certain parts of evidence to shorten the proceedings. And Mr. Yuen – I appreciate that your client has virtually unlimited funds. The other parties do not. I shall not allow the trial to drift, or allow tortuous cross- examination by either party. I will finish this trial within 50 days. Is that clear?”
Ben almost laughed.
“Yes, My Lord”, said Ben.
“Yes, My Lord”, said Yuen, “but I must say....”
“We’re adjourned. Good morning!” The judge left the court. Yuen glared at Ben.
“I will charitably put your allegations against me down to inexperience, Mr. McCann, as inexcusable as they were. I trust there will be no repetition of such behaviour”
Ben had every respect for Yuen but he was not having this.
“Mr. Yuen, I have a job to do for my client, as does Miss Lam and your goodself. I am well aware of Government tactics in past litigation trials and will not allow you to do the same here. If I feel you are in any way abusing your position, I will ask Richard Yap to make a complaint to the judge, and consider a complaint myself to the Bar Association. Good morning.”
“Why...you cheeky young pup!” squealed Yuen, as Ben left the courtroom, feeling rather pleased with himself. He almost ran to the lift, to avoid any further war of words with Yuen. He reached the ground floor and briskly walked off for a taxi back to the safe haven of his office in Wanchai. He grinned. For a few moments, he had forgotten about Dylan and Tyler. The practice of law had become fun again!