Law Wan-tung, former employer of abused Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, has been ordered to pay HK$200,000 in legal costs after a court turned down her judicial review application. She had hoped to challenge the Legal Aid Department’s refusal to grant her legal assistance.

Law, 44, had earlier been sentenced to six years in jail after being found guilty on 18 charges, including assault and criminal intimidation. Last August, Law lodged a judicial review challenge after the Legal Aid Department declined her request for support. She was initially granted permission to pursue the case, but it was quashed last month and she was ordered pay HK$490,000 in legal costs.

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Law Wan-tung. File

Law, who was not represented by a lawyer, said at the High Court on Friday that the sum was too expensive and she lacked the means to pay. She complained that she did not understand English and was unable to make sense of the bills sent to her by the Legal Aid Department, Ming Pao reported. She questioned whether she was denied legal aid because of political pressure from the local and Indonesian governments.

“Is the Legal Aid Department deliberately backing me into a corner till I die?” she asked.

Law said that the legal costs were a result of the Legal Aid Department hiring an expensive barrister to settle a simple judicial review case, and that she could have hired a private lawyer and launched an appeal with a similar amount of money. The court also heard that she was facing a civil claim of HK$1 million.

Judge Madam Justice Queeny Au-Yeung Kwai-yue considered that the Legal Aid Department only applied to have the court’s permission revoked at a late stage of the proceedings, but also said that the department had proposed settling in another way. However, Law did not give a response. The judge said that Law could have saved a lot on legal costs had her lawyer not dropped out several days before the hearing. The legal costs were ultimately set at HK$200,000.

Law is currently also facing a civil suit against Erwiana Sulistyaningsih at the District Court. The plaintiff found that Law has transferred a property under her name to her husband last July and believed that she had done it deliberately to pay less damages. They are now asking her to declare the transaction invalid and to place a court order on the property.

Last month, Law said that she was bullied by her inmates in prison. Her family have maintained that she is innocent and claimed that the domestic worker’s injuries were in fact a result of her skin condition.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.