$450 costs maximum for Viets

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 1994, 12:00am

TEN Vietnamese voluntary returnees, detained for 26 months in the territory to testify at the Sek Kong riot trial, will receive a maximum of only $450 in witness expenses.

This was despite an unprecedented 26-month expenses claim of $20,000 for each person by prosecutor John Cagney on behalf of 11 Vietnamese Crown witnesses at the conclusion of the District Court trial on Wednesday.

The Crown said each Vietnamese witness would have suffered an estimated loss of at least $25 to $30 per day by being kept in Hong Kong.

With the exception of one witness, Kouo Li Hing, who had not chosen repatriation and whose expenses claim was rejected, all the witnesses came from a section of the Sek Kong camp which housed voluntary returnees.

The 11 Vietnamese witnesses had spent between one and three weeks attending court either to testify or to wait within the precincts for their turn to do so.

If they had not agreed to give evidence, the Crown said, they would all have been repatriated to Vietnam within weeks and would have been able to start working and earning a living.

Judge Hartmann reserved his ruling on the witness expenses for the Vietnamese witnesses until yesterday.

In a written judgment which was sent to both the defence and the prosecution yesterday, the judge refused to grant the 26-month expenses claim.

But he ordered that the 10 voluntary-returnee Vietnamese witnesses be paid $30 per day for each day they ''physically attended this court during the course of this trial in order to give evidence''.

He said if any of the Vietnamese witnesses felt that they were entitled to a higher daily allowance, the Crown could make an individual application for them and provide him with evidence of the loss.

He said if the witnesses had any claim for an ex gratia payment for the two years they were held in Hong Kong, it must be addressed to the Government.

''While I have considerable sympathy for those witnesses who volunteered to testify and thereby effectively condemned themselves to an extra two years in custody here in Hong Kong, and while I accept the moral strength of their claim, I can only operate within the strictures of the relevant statute and the rules made under it,'' the judge said.

Judge Hartmann said he could not see that witnesses such as Kouo Li Hing who had not volunteered to return to Vietnam, had entitlement to any allowances.