Convict suspected of duping top court

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 November, 2009, 12:00am

Police are investigating whether a jailed Nigerian drug trafficker used forged witness statements to persuade Hong Kong's top court to overturn his conviction for assaulting prison officers.

In a case that could embarrass both the Department of Justice and the judiciary, Brian Hall convinced the Court of Final Appeal in June that prison authorities had done him an injustice by failing to reveal key witness statements.

His conviction for assault was quashed for this reason. The Department of Justice did not contest the appeal or suggest to the court there was any problem with the statements. But suspicions they were forged could now lead to an unprecedented reopening of the case.

'It now appears that a fraud has been perpetrated on the Court of Final Appeal,' said a senior official familiar with the events. Hall is now the subject of a police investigation with forgery charges expected to be laid soon, the official added.

The documents, purported to be witness statements made by prison officers, were written in English.

'The CSD [Correctional Services Department] were up in arms because they conduct everything in Chinese,' the senior official said.

Officials in the Department of Justice are determined to rectify any mistake by prosecuting Hall - given an 18-year term for drug trafficking in 1998 - even though it would mean public embarrassment.

'The implication is that the CSD withheld statements and they were criticised for that [by the court], so we should rectify that impression.'

Should Hall be convicted of forgery, the top court will be asked to change its own decision.

Hall is renowned for his litigation efforts and has been restricted from further proceedings. His many complaints include:

A claim to be a victim of religious discrimination because he was not allowed to play reggae music (a part of his Rastafarian religion);

A claim he has a right to be provided with newspapers even while being disciplined in solitary confinement;

A claim to have a right to possess his own hair trimmer at all times; and

A claim that a refusal by prison authorities to provide him with free spectacles was unlawful.

In 2005 Hall was convicted of assaulting prison officers who had sought the return of newspapers. His defence was that it was he who had been assaulted - sprayed with foam, wrapped in a blanket, kicked, and grabbed by his testicles.

Magistrate Timothy Casewell said the tale was a concoction, 'a colourful and exaggerated account of what he would wish to have happened but had no foundation in reality'.

The conviction was also upheld on appeal in 2006, but for his final appeal case earlier this year, Hall presented documents previously unseen, purporting to be witness statements made by prison officers that were not disclosed by the Correctional Services Department.

Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, noting the different version of events, wrote: 'Quite plainly, the departure was sufficiently serious to call for the quashing of the appellant's conviction on the substantial and grave injustice ground.'

Hall is now using his success against the conviction as a reason to apply to have litigation restrictions against him lifted, and the Department of Justice has had to file an affidavit to the court explaining the incident, the senior official said. A judiciary spokesman confirmed the matter would be heard in the High Court on December 16.

Asked whether the prosecutor in charge of the case had been negligent, a justice department spokesman said all prosecutors 'are civil servants and are subject to rules and regulations governing their conduct and behaviour. Where it is established that there is misconduct and depending on the circumstances of the case, disciplinary action would be taken'.