Sentence too lenient, or were charges too light?
The case of Amina Bokhary, the niece of Court of Final Appeal judge Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, has caused a huge public outcry after she was given probation and fined for slapping a police officer and drink-driving. The court upheld the original sentence and the government will now appeal against the decision, which spared her a jail term for her third conviction for assaulting an officer.
It's not difficult to understand why there has been so much public anger; this was not the first time she had assaulted a police officer.
The fact that Bokhary suffers from bipolar disorder was a factor in sentencing. I don't agree with magistrate Anthony Yuen Wai-ming's lenient sentence, but I admire his courage for not bowing to public pressure and for upholding judicial independence.
There have been allegations of favouritism to protect the rich and outcries that justice is dead in Hong Kong. These statements are unfair because the judicial process has not been completed.
The rule of law and individual freedoms are the foundation of the city's stability and prosperity. If we believe in the rule of law, we should have faith that the legal system will provide the appropriate means to redress the situation and should not assume that our judicial independence has been harmed simply based on one court ruling.
Moreover, we should never apply political pressure to try to sway court decisions because that would be tantamount to interfering with judicial independence and is no different from trial by public opinion, which will lead us down a dangerous, slippery slope.
On Sunday, some people demonstrated at Government House, calling for justice to be done, while some politicians and retired policemen supported the calls for a harsher sentence. Their original intention to uphold the law has largely been defeated by their own actions; asking the executive and legislative branches of government to 'correct' a judicial decision is effectively attacking our system which advocates the separation of the three branches to protect individual freedoms and prevent the government from abusing its power.
The public certainly has the right to voice its anger against any injustice. But, in this case, its targets shouldn't be the government or the courts, but Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung, who is responsible for prosecutions and all government legal matters.
Bokhary was charged under the police ordinance and not the Offences Against the Person Ordinance, which carries a maximum two-year jail sentence. Neither was she charged over an alleged assault of a policewoman at the police station. Further, she was prosecuted for careless driving, not dangerous driving.
Based on this information alone, the public should point the accusatory finger at the police and the Department of Justice because they chose to lay lesser charges.
Wong should address the matter and explain the prosecution policy to curb public suspicion. Yet, he seems to be ignoring public concerns. His inaction has indirectly fanned negative public sentiments.
The innocent party is Mr Justice Bokhary, who has nothing to do with the case. Now even his wife, who is a High Court judge, has come under attack.
Judges should never bow to public pressure, and public opinion should not be a factor in sentencing. The public response to this case seems politically motivated; the spotlight should be shone on Wong, who is the ultimate gatekeeper of our judicial system.
Justice must be blind in order to remain neutral. In this case, public reaction has wrongly focused on attacking the foundation of judicial independence while our justice secretary remains deaf to the outcry.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org