Another year has passed without any substantial changes in the justice field,” said the president of the Macau Lawyers Association (AAM), Jorge Neto Valente. This was among the opening comments of his speech made at the official ceremony to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 legal year.
“I could address your excellencies by rereading my speeches from the previous years. I just won’t do it because the respect that I owe to all present does not allow me [to do so],” he added.
The veteran lawyer was trying to call attention to the long awaited reforms which, according to him, appear to be moving too slowly.
Neto Valente recalled that although there has been some reduction in the waiting time for certain procedures within the Court of First Instance (TJB) coupled with a slight reduction in the total number of new cases filed in that court, the number of pending cases rose.
The AAM president used as an example matters heard by the Administrative Court, in which less than 10 percent of the number of cases filed were concluded. He deduced, “there isn’t a solution in sight since the deficit in the resolution of cases contributed to the influx of new cases that continue to arrive all year long.”
Neto Valente recalled his constant appeals over the last two years for a solution in relation to reform of the legal system. “Sooner or later it will have to be followed,” he said. “Justice isn’t a right for those who manage it, but instead a right for the population to which the Basic Law grants the existence of independent [and efficient] courts.”
Among the matters that the lawyer identified as requiring review, Neto Valente mentioned once more the lack of ability to appeal decisions of the Court of Final Appeal (TUI) in cases involving top officials, as well the need to increase the numbers of magistrates in both TUI and Court of Second Instance (TSI). He also noted that the competencies of appeal courts are particularly important to consider, noting, “the lack of response to these questions only contributes to the lack of trust in the courts and disgrace of the justice servants.”
The case of the former public prosecutor general, Ho Chio Meng, was implicitly or explicitly mentioned in most of the speeches that followed, with the current prosecutor general Ip Son Sang using the case to remark on the competence of the Public Prosecutions Office (MP) and its “objectivity and equity of everyone under the law,” further noting, “the Court of Final Appeal confirmed the existence of the majority of the facts in the accusation by the MP and delivered a fair sentence, convicting the defendant to 21 years of imprisonment.”
Ip noted that the case is proof that “while Macau SAR has solid foundations in the rule of law, the judiciary bodies, insisting on maintaining judicial independence, have been finding the people responsible for the crimes, independent of the position they hold.”
The prosecutor general also took the opportunity to conduct a brief review on the figures of the criminal cases of the past legal year. He noted that the number of new crimes has been growing, and specifically that “money laundering, cybercrimes, phone scams and other crimes that involve intellectual capacity from criminals bring new challenges to the investigation and accusation of the MP.”
Noting an increase in the number of processes of about 5 percent year-on-year, Ip also remarked that this corresponds to a growth in labor related to such activities of approximately 25 percent year-on-year.
Ip highlighted also that in relation to the total number of processes related to the new domestic violence law (63) the MP has proceeded with four allegations, which he considered positive in terms of “educational and intimidating effects.”
According to the president of the TUI, Sam Hou Fai, the source of the registered decrease in the number of completed cases recorded last year (22,869 finished cases against 23,602 from the previous year) was specifically as result of Ho Chio Meng’s case. As he said in his speech, “this has to do with the fact that almost all legal year long a judge from the TUI, a judge from TSI and one judge-president from the criminal section of the TJB were busy with processes relating to the former prosecutor, which jeopardized the moving of all other processes.”
Sam also remarked on the exponential hike in the number of administrative cases from 194 to 1,276, a growth of almost 660 percent.
As for the TSI, Sam recalled the registered growth of over 35 percent in the number of processes, a figure that the TUI president says is related to appeals to cases judged in the First Instance, specifically those relating to the expiration of land concessions for several land plots, ordered by the government during the past year.
Sam Hou Fai still took the time to point out some directions for the future, recalling the great changes which have taken place in Macau society in past years “that has also reflexes in the judicial system.”
To Sam, the way to move forward is through implementing “new mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts” such as arbitration. This solution was also advocated by Neto Valente, along with mediation.
The president of TUI agreed with the president of the AAM in several other aspects, stating that, “due to the large number of processes, the lack of judges and the complex procedures, the number of pending cases has been growing year after year.” He further added that it will be a “priority for the juridical reform, the creation of innovative judiciary processes, with added expediency, more simplicity and less cost.”
The last to speak at the opening of the legal year was the chief executive, Chui Sai On, who highlighted the training of the new magistrates who will now commence their duties. Chui also commented on the conclusion of the construction of the new building of the TJB in the Praia Grande area.
The CE also took the opportunity to reaffirm the “need for the independent exercise of the judicial power, according to the Basic Law, and in defense of the rule of law and respecting the ‘one country two systems’ principle.”
AAM to push Macau arbitration to international level
Announced by the president of the Macau Lawyers Association (AAM) Jorge Neto Valente during the opening speech of the inauguration of the new legal year, the association has implemented a new arbitration center that aims to address commercial disputes of an international nature.
The center, as Neto Valente explained on the sidelines of the event, “is an opportunity for Macau to lead in the field of arbitration,” especially when disputes involve people and companies from China and the domains of Portuguese-speaking countries.
“We want [due to its privileged position] Macau to be the first choice for those countries” concerning matters of international arbitration, he said.
Neto Valente remarked that the center will be composed of a wide panel of experts on arbitration from Macau, Mainland China, Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries, as well as other states. The panel will be listed and available for selection by the parties involved in commercial disputes in order to solve the problem according to the relevant common rules and regulations.
In that sense Neto Valente recalled, “The AAM signed a cooperation agreement with the CIETAC [China International Economic & Trade Arbitration Commission].”
To initiate operations, the president of the AAM said, “We need to have these disputes and interested parties to solve them.” He also noted that a venue is the “least important matter,” as “arbitration can be done anywhere and the AAM has enough space for it.”