Man jailed on drug charge freed after ruling

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2006, 12:00am

A man who prompted a landmark court ruling fortifying the rights of accused drug dealers has been freed after a jury returned a unanimous verdict to acquit him on a charge of trafficking in heroin.

Driver Hung Chan-wa, 38 - convicted of trafficking in 410g of heroin - insisted he did not know a package he handled had contained drugs. In the first trial in 2003, Mr Hung told the court that he was given the packet in Tak Hing Street, Kowloon, on October 26, 2002, by a friend who told him it contained a videotape of football matches.

He was convicted in September 2003 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was 35 and had no previous criminal record.

Ruling in June on his appeal launched in April last year, the Court of Appeal said the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance was incompatible with Hong Kong's Bill of Rights and Basic Law as it violated the principle of presumed innocence.

The law stated that if someone was found with a container of drugs it was presumed the person knew the substance in the container was a dangerous drug, unless it was proved otherwise. It placed the onus on the suspect to prove his ignorance, rather than the prosecution bearing the burden of proof.

The issue was later taken to the Court of Final Appeal, which ruled in August this year that if suspects were found in possession of dangerous drugs the prosecution would have to prove the suspect knew of the drugs.

Mr Hung, together with Japanese man Asano Atsushi - an applicant in a separate drug case - had his conviction quashed and was granted a retrial.

Denying the trafficking charge in the Court of First Instance early this month, Mr Hung told Deputy Judge Derek Pang Wai-cheong that he did not know the packet he carried contained drugs. Mr Hung had been detained since he was arrested till he walked free last Friday.

Atsushi, 25, pleaded guilty to a count of trafficking in his second appearance before the Court of First Instance last month and was jailed for 15 years. Both were represented by barrister Hanif Mughal.