Law urged for seizure of media material

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 May, 2006, 12:00am

New guidelines will be sufficient for law enforcement officers to seek court orders to seize journalistic material, government lawyers told legislators yesterday.

But pro-democracy lawmakers said only new laws that specified the grounds for such court applications would ensure the protection of press freedom.

'Whenever a problem comes up, the first thing the government thinks of is how to cut corners and take the fast route,' Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the Civic Party told a Legislative Council security panel subcommittee.

Legco colleague and fellow barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said: 'Legislation will clearly be slower than administrative directions but if you don't abide by the principles, what is the point of legislation as everything can be done by administrative directions?'

But Kevin Zervos, senior assistant director of public prosecutions, said that not everything needed to be put into law.

'There are other ways ... to achieve the exact objectives that you are seeking, and one is by way of administrative directions which have some force of authority and law,' he said.

The row follows the government's rejection of calls for an additional review and appeal mechanism in the event the High Court approves applications for search and seizure of journalistic material.

The court has only granted four such applications in the past 10 years, including that for the ICAC to raid seven newspaper offices and several journalists' homes in 2004.

The government has proposed that all future applications be lodged at the District Court unless the circumstances warrant a decision from the High Court.

It proposes the High Court be involved only in instances where it is felt there is an imminent risk of serious harm to life, or in cases of high sensitivity where confidentiality is necessary, such as graft allegations against top officials.