A busy decade of Cross-examination

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2007, 12:00am

Director of public prosecutions looks back on the highs and lows of 10 hectic years

When Grenville Cross SC took up the post as the director of public prosecutions 10 years ago today, his vision was to build a 'far more transparent, modern, and internationalist' public prosecutions system.

Over the past decade, he has introduced an annual report on the work of his team, issued prosecution policy guidelines, built up specialist teams targeting increasingly sophisticated crime, reached out to victims of crimes, the media and the public, and established international networks with overseas prosecutors.

Mr Cross, currently in his fourth three-year term as the city's longest-serving DPP, believes he and his team of 230 prosecutors have satisfied the challenge. 'We are seen to be successful. And we are understood by people,' he said.

Unlike many of his predecessors, his tenure has been clean of sexual scandals and criminal convictions of subordinates. However, another sort of challenge was posed to him as his decisions on whether to prosecute high-profile people fell under public scrutiny.

Among the controversial cases was his decision not to prosecute Sally Aw Sian, former publishing tycoon and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate, in a circulation fraud case involving the Hong Kong Standard in 1998. Elsie Leung Oi-sie, then secretary for justice, sparked outcry after she told legislators that 'public interest' was a factor she had considered before reaching the decision not to prosecute Ms Aw. Asked if he held a different stance from Ms Leung, he said: 'Well, the Department [of Justice]'s view was there shouldn't be a prosecution in that case. So that was it.'

But what the seasoned prosecutor considered as his test case was that of former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, who was accused of avoiding first registration tax by purchasing a Lexus saloon in advance of the budget in 2003. The department dropped the case after deciding there was insufficient evidence to establish Mr Leung had intentionally committed the act for personal benefit.

'The secretary of justice had to disqualify herself in the Leung Kam-chung case because she was a member of the Executive Council with Mr Leung. So everything was left for me to decide. The eyes of the world were on us. I had to make sure that nothing went wrong,' he said.

'Even though not everyone necessarily agrees with our decisions, at the end of the day, [they] were taken in good faith.'

The 56-year-old, who started his prosecuting career in 1976 and was appointed the deputy DPP in 1991, admitted that his job had become increasingly stressful because of higher expectations from outside. But he said he had learnt to switch off once he left the office.

'I don't spend all night worrying about whether I have taken the right decision. Once you have taken a decision, you have to stick by it and put it behind you,' he said. He added that he enjoyed writing, hiking and collecting antiques in his free time.

Looking ahead, he said he would continue to deploy his three-pronged policy on transparency, modernisation and internationalism. One of the initiatives on his strategic development programme for the next five years was to set up a working group to examine whether prosecutors should be allowed to form their own opinion of witnesses by interviewing them before trial.

Despite the huge amount of administration work, he continued to appear in court in some major cases.

'I think it is important from time to time to appear at the frontline and to lead by example. I love doing appeal,' he said.