Informant's naming 'breached ICAC duty'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2006, 12:00am

Lawyers say agency should have sought court order to protect identity of witness

Lawyers say the ICAC failed in its duty to protect the identity of one of its informers, after the man's identity was revealed in open court even though he had given his evidence from behind a screen.

The witness, who refers to himself as Rock 7, had disclosed his identity and personal details during cross-examination, and the information was published in several Chinese-language newspapers, ICAC correspondence with the witness shows.

The witness said he had not understood the nature of open court proceedings.

The man, who ran a travel agency, was an ICAC informer between 1998 and 2002. He was asked by a friend in 2000 to take part in a credit card scam in which he credited the proceeds to his travel agency and then split the proceeds between himself and his friend, the informer said. He reported the case to the anti-graft body, which asked him to continue talking to his friend and to testify in court later, he said.

Before the proceedings in the District Court, the witness expressed his fear of being recognised and the prosecutor successfully applied for him to testify behind a screen, he said. But during cross-examination, defence counsel asked him his personal details and he answered the lawyer's question.

'I don't know what open court means and I couldn't see anything behind the screen. If I knew, I wouldn't have testified,' the witness said. 'Travel agents are a small circle. After my identity was disclosed, several big agencies refused to work with me. Even my own business partner shunned me.'

The witness said his business had since folded. He complained to the ICAC over its failure to apply to the court for an order restraining publication of his personal details.

In reply, the ICAC said the complaint was unfounded. It said the witness had disclosed details of his own accord. Since proceedings were in open court, it had no power to interfere with press freedom.

Two lawyers yesterday criticised the Independent Commission Against Corruption for breaching its duty to protect informers and said it could be sued.

Solicitor and legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan said it was outrageous the ICAC should try to blame the witness for what had happened.

'If you don't protect your informers, who is going to work for you in the future?' he asked.

The ICAC may not have willingly disclosed the informant's details but had failed in its duty, said a barrister who asked not to be named. 'They failed to observe procedure. You might criticise the ICAC and the judge for failing to intervene.'

The senior counsel said there was case law in the United Kingdom in which the courts had held that the police owed a duty to informants to protect their identity.

But the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association's criminal and procedure committee, Giles Surman, said: 'From what it appears, the prosecutor may have been a bit slow on his feet. If that's the case, it's an entirely different matter.'