Out-of-date law exempts William from jury duty

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am


He is second in line to the British throne and also a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot. Which means that Prince William, unfortunately, is not eligible for jury service in Hong Kong.

Statutes and ordinances often raise a smile, since many have not been updated since the handover.

The Hong Kong Jury Ordinance is one of these. It states that exemptions from jury service include 'officers employed on full pay in the naval, military and air services of Her Majesty'.

Prince William's new wife Kate will also miss out, as another exemption is for 'spouses of members of the Armed Forces of Her Majesty serving on full pay'. These two instances are also listed in the Chinese translation of jury-service exemptions.

An asterisk does appear beside each of the above exemptions. Under the heading 'amendments retroactively made' is the statement that any reference in any provision to 'Her Majesty, the Crown, the British Government or the Secretary of State (or to similar names, terms or expressions) ... shall be construed as a reference to the Central People's government or other competent authorities of the People's Republic of China'.

While these are light-hearted examples of the government's failure to update laws promptly, others are not so funny. Take the ordinance that was declared unconstitutional in the groundbreaking 2005 case of William Leung. It overturned Section 118 (c) of the Crimes Ordinance, which made it a crime punishable with life imprisonment for homosexual male couples under 21 to engage in gay sex.

A judgment by Mr Justice Michael Hartmann struck down the law and brought the gay age of consent into line with that for heterosexuals.

But six years on, the law has still not been repealed and remains on the statute books.

Michael Vidler, of Vidler & Co Solicitors, who brought the case to court for Leung, believes it highlights a chronic problem.

'An ordinary citizen looks to the statute books to know the law. If the statute book is wrong or misleading because the administration has not made the effort to repeal a section or update it, then at best the government looks incompetent and our statute books become a laughing-stock,' Vidler said.

'At worst, the government's failure to act looks like a slap in the face for the judiciary and disrespect for the Basic Law.'

The Jury Ordinance exemptions were mailed to a teacher - who preferred to remain anonymous - last week when he was notified for jury service. He laughed, as it seemed funny to be using the term 'Her Majesty' in Hong Kong today, but his good humour did not last long.

'I thought to myself that here in Hong Kong we have numerous lawmakers telling us what should be done and getting well paid for it, when in actuality all we have is outdated ordinances like these that no one has put the time and effort into changing,' the teacher said.