Former chief justice sings Wong's praises
Former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang has taken the unusual step of making public a personal letter paying tribute to the 'outstanding contribution' of Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung, who steps down this week after seven years in the job.
Praising Wong's 'invaluable' contribution to the maintenance of the rule of law and an independent judiciary, Li (pictured) also says the outgoing justice minister has served with 'sensitivity, balanced judgment and courage'.
Addressed personally to Wong and dated yesterday, the contents of the letter are in stark contrast to recent criticisms of the outgoing minister by former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross, who has accused Wang of presiding over a brain drain of legal talent from the prosecutions division of the Department of Justice, a lack of transparency and consistency over sensitive, high-profile cases and failing to address questions over the independence of the city's prosecuting authorities.
It also comes just ahead of the expected appointment this week of barrister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung as Wong's successor.
In the letter, Li - who was chief justice from 1997 until August 2010 when he was replaced by Geoffrey Ma Tao-li - writes: 'I wish to pay the warmest tribute to your outstanding contribution as Secretary for Justice.
'You have served with great distinction. You have discharged your duties with sensitivity, balanced judgment and courage. Your contribution to the ... vigour of the rule of law with an independent Judiciary ... under 'one country, two systems' has been invaluable.'
Li continues: 'You have fulfilled your responsibilities with selfless dedication, utmost integrity and outstanding professionalism.'
Cross served as DPP for a record 12 years between 1997 and 2009 and during that time the Department of Justice made a number of controversial decisions, including opting not to prosecute Sing Tao newspaper tycoon Sally Aw Sian for fraud, or financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, who bought a car for his family ahead of announcing an increase in the First Registration Tax on vehicles. It also granted diplomatic immunity to Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, who was accused of assaulting a journalist in Hong Kong.
Cross told the South China Morning Post : 'The new secretary for justice, most regrettably, will inherit a severely weakened prosecutions division, which has suffered from an unprecedented exodus since 2009 ... [and] many (senior people) who were the experts in their field, for whom, in most cases, no successors have been trained to take over.'
He also hit out at Wong for not stepping aside to avoid fears of conflict of interest in the investigations into Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Wong has done so in the investigation into allegations of graft against Sun Hung Kai Properties tycoons, Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, and former government number two Rafael Hui Si-yan.
The criticisms of a brain drain from Cross provoked a stinging rebuke from sitting DPP Kevin Zervos.
'These comments ... are mischievous exaggerations. A far greater number of counsel left when he was DPP, including some very experienced counsel well before retirements, for example Andrew Bruce SC and Michael Blanchflower SC. Under Wong Yan-lung, the prosecuting authority has gone from strength to strength. It is more open and accountable and more professional and successful than it ever was.'
Zervos also said Cross knew a decision by the secretary for justice to step aside in a case can only be made once the Department of Justice had received investigative files from the ICAC, which it had not.