Bid to ease correction of errors in poll expenses
Election candidates at all levels may be able to correct minor errors or omissions in their declarations of election expenses without having to seek orders from the High Court or pay hefty legal fees - as long as the amount involved stays within a set limit, a government proposal says.
The idea is to answer concerns that investigations into trivial errors in election returns - sometimes involving only dozens of dollars - have distracted the Independent Commission Against Corruption from dealing with more serious offences.
The law now requires a candidate who wants to correct false statements in his election return to apply to the Court of First Instance for an order. He must show the inaccuracy is made out of bad calculation, inadvertence or other reasonable causes.
The Registration and Electoral Office, which oversees election returns, will refer possible breaches to the ICAC. 'Candidates... have to face uncertainty because of the ICAC investigation. Some of them have to defray a fairly large sum of legal costs to seek a relief order from the Court of First Instance,' the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said in a paper to the Legislative Council.
Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, a solicitor and vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he had handled cases involving party members who contested district council polls. 'In some extreme cases, they had to explain to ICAC officers why they failed to declare expenses for dry cell batteries used in a loudspeaker. They were warned they could face prosecution unless they got relief orders from the Court of First Instance. They then had to pay nearly HK$100,000 to hire a barrister to represent them in court.'
To rectify an election return without going through the courts, the government proposes the total amount of errors or omissions for a candidate in the chief executive election stay within HK$5,000. The ceiling is HK$3,000 for Legco geographical constituency polls and HK$500 for district council polls.