Prosecutors lay down the law on transparency

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2007, 12:00am

Prosecutors from 100 jurisdictions are meeting in Hong Kong to pick one another's brains on how to make their work more transparent and accountable without compromising their independence.

The 12th annual conference of the International Association of Prosecutors, the only global organisation for prosecutors, opens at the Convention and Exhibition Centre today under the theme 'Relations with others: accountability, transparency and independence'.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will officially open the conference.

The meeting is being attended by 450 attorneys-general, ministers of justice, chief prosecutors and prosecutors representing every region of the world. It will end on Thursday.

'I took the view that nothing is more important than the way in which we relate to others in our society ... because people must trust us,' said Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross, who is hosting the conference and set the theme.

He said Hong Kong was moving closely in line with other major common-law jurisdictions in an effort to demystify the operations of prosecutors.

'Certainly, when I started prosecuting, the victims of crime and witnesses weren't told anything about the case,' Mr Cross said.

'But in line with the momentum, which has been towards transparency over the last 15 years or so, victims of crime are now told far more about the cases. And indeed, the public, on occasions, is told the basis of prosecution decisions.'

As part of the process of transparency, the prosecutions division at the Department of Justice in recent years had started meeting representatives from victim groups, Mr Cross said.

The representatives included members of the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation, the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Some of the groups expressed concern over the way sentences were proposed, he said.

Mr Cross added that his department was also regularly reviewing the set of guidelines on prosecution practices.

He said the current guidelines, published in 2002 and accessible to the public, were far more comprehensive than their first guidelines issued in 1993.

They provided information on ethics, impartiality, review of a decision to prosecute, duty of disclosure, and the relationship between prosecutors and victims of crime.

But Mr Cross said there needed to be a limit on how much prosecutors could divulge about their cases.

'Part of the criminal justice [system] is to ensure that if people are going to be tried, they are tried in a court of law, not tried by public debate,' he said.

'If the decision is there is not enough reliable evidence to prosecute, then we can't very well parade the evidence in public, because that would then lead to a public debate about whether the person was innocent or guilty.'