Attackers must face full weight of the law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 October, 2009, 12:00am

The rule of law is fundamental to Hong Kong's way of life. Our courts strive to administer justice without fear or favour in a calm and reasoned atmosphere. So it is disturbing that a prosecutor has been cruelly assaulted in the course of his official duties and is now under police protection in hospital. That is a grave violation of the sanctuary of the courts from violence and intimidation for all who enter.

It is not clear what the motive behind the attack was. But such a serious assault on a person administering justice is, on the face of it, an affront to the system. The Department of Justice and Bar Association have rightly condemned it.

Barrister Neil Mitchell was prosecuting on fiat a fraud and money-laundering case in the District Court in Wan Chai. As he left the court for the lunch break on Tuesday, a black liquid, at first thought to be ink, was thrown in his face. Immediately afterwards bystanders saw two men clad in shorts fleeing down Harbour Road. A senior public prosecutor who took over the case has since said that the liquid was acidic and corrosive and had burned the cornea of Mitchell's left eye.

The two suspects are still on the run. The accused person's barrister told the court there was no evidence to connect him to the attack. We should certainly not jump to any conclusions in the absence of evidence.

Court hearings can be trying ordeals for the accused, plaintiffs and witnesses alike. They can test the composure of people who harbour feelings of injustice or retribution. But there was apparently nothing impulsive or spontaneous about this attack. The matter must be thoroughly investigated and the truth uncovered.

Thankfully, personal attacks of this nature on justice officials are very rare in Hong Kong. Politicians are more likely to find themselves the targets of violence and crude intimidation for strong views on divisive issues. Nonetheless, attacks of this kind must be taken seriously. For the sake of fair and fearless administration of justice, the perpetrators must be quickly caught and the message conveyed that such assaults will not be tolerated.