Motorist's right-to-silence fight may go to Court of Final Appeal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 March, 2009, 12:00am

A motorist's fight to overhaul city traffic laws may be headed to the Court of Final Appeal.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal, which struck down Richard Latker's constitutional challenge in January, agreed yesterday that the case raised an important legal point concerning the right to a fair trial.

The panel - Chief Judge of the High Court Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, Mr Justice Michael Stuart-Moore and Mr Justice Frank Stock - granted Latker's request to argue his case before Hong Kong's top adjudicator.

The court must still agree to hear the case.

Latker's constitutional challenge dates back to July 2007, when a police camera caught the journalist's car running a red light.

The law requires vehicle owners to identify who was driving when the car was photographed or risk a HK$10,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Latker was charged after he refused to comply.

Kowloon City Magistrate David Thomas acquitted Latker in May.

He agreed that forcing drivers to hand over personal information under threat of jail was the equivalent of a forced confession, which breached Latker's right to a fair trial.

The appeal court overturned that ruling in January.

It said the magistrate had ignored established law, which allowed the government to curtail individual rights if it had a legitimate public policy objective.

In this case, the city's 'high incidence' of traffic accidents meant strict road rules had to be in force, the court said in an 85-page ruling.

But the three judges agreed yesterday that the case raised an issue of 'great and general importance' that should be heard by the Court of Final Appeal.

'As soon as the magistrate ruled in my favour, this case was destined to be in the Court of Final Appeal,' Latker said.

'I don't think they really had any other option - this affects a lot of people, so that meets the definition of great and general importance.'