Legal professional privilege has to be protected, judge says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 12:00am

A defendant in a fraud case did not need to disclose a conversation with his lawyer who allegedly asked him to record how ICAC officers coached him to testify in court, a judge ruled yesterday.

Judge Garry Tallentire refused an application from prosecuting counsel Joseph Tse to cross-examine defendant Cheung Ching-ho, 39, on his intention in seeking legal advice and details of his contact with his lawyer, Virginia Szeto.

Defence lawyer Andrew Bruce objected to the application in the District Court on Thursday, citing professional privilege that protects all communication between a legal adviser and his client from being disclosed without the permission of the client.

In turning down the application yesterday, Tallentire said professional privilege was protected by the Basic Law. 'It will take a lot to take it away,' he said.

Cheung, a former warrants trader, was among five people arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2008 for trying to manipulate the derivatives market and laundering over HK$100 million generated by an alleged scam.

He was originally offered immunity from prosecution, but later refused to testify against the alleged mastermind of the scam, Raymond Ng Chun-to. Cheung was then charged with conspiracy to defraud.

Cheung later accused three ICAC officers of coaching him to be a witness. Cheung's lawyers are trying to get the proceedings stayed on the grounds that he will not get a fair trial. Cheung alleged earlier that he accepted Szeto's advice that he should take notes and tape record his meetings with ICAC officers. Records of their meetings on November 23 and December 3, 2009, were presented to the court earlier.

Tse argued yesterday that the reason Cheung started to take notes of his meetings with ICAC officers was pivotal to the case. Tse described Szeto's behaviour as highly suspicious and extraordinary. 'It was a premeditated act ... it doesn't fall in line [with the actions of] prudent legal representatives,' he said.

'The whole point of [Cheung] having notes and tapes was for one motive only. It's for self-protection.'

Bruce said no justification was needed for his seeking legal advice.

Three ICAC officers - Ben Chan Kai-hung, 36, Kevin Cho Wing-nin, 46 and Au Kim-fung, 42 - are accused of inducing Cheung, between November 3 and December 4, 2009, to give false evidence in a trial. They are facing charges of perverting the course of justice and misconduct.