Judge's ruling a farewell to concubines

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 April, 1998, 12:00am

A judge yesterday decided the legal fate of Hong Kong's concubines.

Mr Justice Brian Keith ruled concubinage disappeared in 1931, when lawmakers drafted a Civil Code omitting all mention of it. The decision ended a multi-million dollar inheritance case which hinged on the legality of concubines.

Millionaire Sung So-chun's 90-year-old widow claimed the other women in his life were concubines - secondary wives as opposed to mistresses - making them part of a traditional Chinese family.

One of these women, Chu Lee, had been put in charge of his fortune in an earlier court decision. With Chu now declared a mistress, Sung's widow and family cannot claim the estate because the money, in effect, was given to a stranger.

Widow Chan Chiu-lam and Sung's two surviving children said the millionaire took Chu as his concubine in 1945.

But Chinese family law expert Professor Anthony Dicks testified that the practice vanished with the enactment of the Civil Code, reducing Chu's status to mistress.

The widow's lawyer, Nelson Miu, countered that omitting it was not the same as prohibiting it. He said lawmakers had simply turned a blind eye to concubinage.

But the Court of First Instance judge agreed with the professor.

'Those responsible for drafting the Civil Code believed that the effect of not including an express provision on concubinage would still be the abolition of concubinage,' he said in a written statement.

However, the judge questioned the mistress' right to be put in charge of the estate in the first place and made an order revoking Chu's letters of administration.

They have since passed to her family, following her death in 1987 - two years after Sung passed away.