Hospital 'promise' denied by church
The Anglican Church yesterday asked the High Court to order a hospital to move off land in Central where it has been for more than 50 years.
Lawyers for the church's Sheng Kung Hui Foundation told the Court of First Instance that Hong Kong Central Hospital had no defence for trespassing on the premises in Lower Albert Road because the tenancy agreement with the church expired in June last year. It asked for a summary judgment against the hospital without a full trial.
But the hospital argued that in 2005 the archbishop at the time, Dr Peter Kwong Kong-kit, promised the hospital that it could rent the site for another 10 to 15 years. It is a claim denied by the church.
The dispute arose after the church announced plans in October 2009 to convert four historic buildings into a museum and gallery, opening up the site to the public. The HK$800 million development was expected to be completed by 2014.
Deputy judge Mr Justice Conrad Seagroatt will hand down his written judgment early next week.
Outside court, Dr Alan Lau Kwok-lam, managing director of the hospital, said he was disappointed with the former archbishop. 'He is a servant of God so I believed what he said.'
He said the hospital was looking for a new site and had no intention of occupying the church's land for ever.
Provincial secretary general the Reverend Peter Douglas Koon said the redevelopment project had stalled because of the hospital's refusal to move out of the site. He said the church intended to run a hospital with another organisation on the site.
In court, Li Chau-yuen SC, for the hospital, said the rental promise was made in a 2005 meeting attended by Peter Kwong, the current archbishop Paul Kwong, and Lau and Dr Stephen Lee Kai-cheung from the hospital.
He said the doctors would not have invested HK$12 million into the private, non-profit hospital in 2005 if they were not assured that they could run the hospital on the site for another decade. He said the court should make a summary judgment only if it thought the hospital's case was entirely unbelievable.
But Mr Justice Conrad Seagroatt said: 'I don't believe there is such a promise at all.'
The judge said there was no mention of the promise in the minutes of the board meetings, not even as a topic of discussion.
He said the most recent tenancy agreement was for only two years, and that should have rung alarm bells for hospital directors when it was signed, if a promise had been made.
Lawyers for the church cited a sworn statement by Dr Donald Lee Kwok-tung, a director of the hospital, saying he was 'not aware' the church had made the alleged promise.
But lawyers for the hospital said Lee was the chairman of the Welfare Council of the church and questioned his credibility.
The court heard that the hospital sent a letter to Lee warning him that he had breached his fiduciary duty, accusing him of lying and threatening to sue him.
Hong Kong Central Hospital is housed in a single building, with an endoscopy centre, a special care unit and four operating rooms.