But Your Honour, I'm well connected!

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2011, 12:00am


Mitigation is a sensible and humane part of the common law system for a defendant convicted of a crime and awaiting sentencing. In Hong Kong, it's also a window into the social networks and influence of powerful people convicted in court.

When Lily Chiang Lai-lei, the former head of the General Chamber of Commerce, was found guilty of shares fraud, her lawyer was able to produce a long list of testimonials from some of the best-connected people in town.

Letters came from the likes of Nobel-winner Dr Charles Kao, academic Paul Chu Ching-wu, former Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun and Canto-pop star Sammi Cheng Sau-man. Other luminaries included the president of Lingnan University, Chan Yuk-shee, and former Chinese University president Ambrose King Yeo-chi, who expressed a high regard for Chiang for her contribution to higher education in the city.

Chiang was jailed for three years and six months, so it looks like the judge was not persuaded.

When Lam Shiu-kum, the former medical dean of the University of Hong Kong, was found guilty of misconduct in public office in 2009, he too produced an A-list of pleas for clemency. Among those who wrote on his behalf was no less than Tung Chee-hwa, the former chief executive, who was also one of Lam's many wealthy patients. Lam was sentenced to 25 months. The judge wasn't convinced either.

When powerful people are facing jail time, they should realise they need to look sympathetic before a hanging judge. It's refreshing to see that judges aren't swayed by the shows of privilege, access and connections that these defendants so readily enjoy outside Hong Kong's courts.