Sing Tao lets graft-buster view files

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 12:00am

But the newspaper group's suggestion that the case be moved to the Court of Final Appeal is rejected by the ICAC

The Sing Tao Daily newspaper has allowed the Independent Commission Against Corruption to look at the documents the anti-graft body seized in a raid later deemed illegal by a High Court judge.

Lawyers for Sing Tao Limited yesterday also suggested the case, the judge's ruling on which the ICAC is appealing over, be taken directly to the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) to save time and resources, but the idea was rejected by the graft-buster's lawyers.

'We offered to skip the Court of Appeal and take this directly to the CFA, but they refused,' Sing Tao's solicitor Keith Ho Man-kei said. 'We feel there is no need to do this twice when we can just take care of it in one appeal directly to the highest court. But both sides have to agree to this and they refused.'

The ICAC is appealing against a decision by Mr Justice Michael Hartmann to set aside a search warrant the agency obtained against Sing Tao Daily last month. Mr Justice Hartmann ruled the ICAC could have sought a production order and the co-operation of the newspaper instead of using heavy-handed search and seizure powers.

The ICAC obtained 14 search warrants against seven newspapers and several journalists in relation to an investigation into the leaking of the identity of a woman under its witness protection programme. Its actions were widely criticised by media groups locally and internationally, but it says it is appealing against the decision to seek clarification of guidelines for law enforcement agencies.

Victor Dawes, barrister for the newspaper and one of its journalists, raised no objection at a closed-door hearing yesterday to the ICAC examining the documents and files it had seized from a computer in its controversial raids on newspaper offices and journalists' homes last month.

'From day one, we have said the documents are irrelevant to the ICAC's investigation,' he said.

'We suggested of our own initiative that they examine the documents because it doesn't make sense to make a fuss because the materials seized were mainly drafts of the articles that have already been published. If they had asked for them in the first place, Sing Tao, being a responsible organisation, would have co-operated.'

The files and the computer would be returned to the newspaper, but it has set no deadline for the return, saying it was assured it would be in reasonable time.

The date for the appeal hearing has been set for September 8 and 9 before Court of Appeal judges Stuart Moore and Frank Stock.

Meanwhile, barrister James McGowan, of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, has expressed concern at suggestions the ICAC's lawyers may question the jurisdiction of Mr Justice Hartmann to rule on its search warrants.

Mr McGowan said he was uncomfortable with the ICAC's contention that search warrants it obtains ex parte - without the other party being present - could not be reviewed by a judge.