Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Justice chief under fire for 'gag' bid

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2011, 12:00am

The former director of public prosecutions yesterday rounded on the secretary for justice for calling on the public to keep quiet ahead of a forthcoming domestic helper's right of abode case.

Grenville Cross (pictured) said the court was perfectly capable of making impartial decisions despite the heated public debate. He also blamed justice chief Wong Yan-lung for trying to influence the court by making a bid to present late evidence, withdrawn at the last minute this week.

In a public statement on Wednesday, Wong - who used to be Cross' boss - pleaded for people to avoid making comments that could pressure the court. But Cross retorted: 'It ill-behoves Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung to lecture the public on showing respect to the court in expressing their thoughts, when he himself sought to influence the decision of the judge by filing evidence as to the numerical impact of a potentially adverse ruling.'

This was a reference to the government's failed attempt to introduce late evidence into the case showing the negative social impact of a mass influx of helpers.

'Strong emotions are sometimes stoked up in the community by particular court cases, both criminal and civil,' Cross said. 'But judges reach their decisions on the basis of the evidence and on the application of the law. Judges are taken to be capable of excluding improper influences from their reasoning process, and this is fundamental to our legal system.

'His whole emphasis, as secretary for justice, ought instead to have been upon reassuring people that there is no reason to think that the judge will not reach a true decision based solely on the evidence before him and the law,' said Cross.

On Monday, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino domestic helper who has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years, will challenge the government's policy not to give permanent residency to domestic helpers no matter how long they have lived in the city. It is the first of three forthcoming judicial reviews to be heard in the Court of First Instance.

Political heavyweights, such as New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee Elsie Leung Oi-sie, have called on Beijing to interpret the Basic Law, which could take the decision out of the court's hands and lead to the domestic helpers not gaining residency. The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong claimed Hong Kong's population would swell by half a million if the helpers were allowed in.

This led to Wong's warning to 'show the greatest respect to our court and our legal system, and to avoid as far as possible making any comments which might prejudice or affect the court's adjudication' on Wednesday.

Founding chairman of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee Chu-ming, said a line should be drawn between debating legal points in public - which was acceptable - and 'intimidating' people with predictions of domestic helpers overrunning the city, which was irrelevant to the rightness of the case. Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit said the pro-government camp's tactics were being whipped up to distract from the by-election replacement mechanism under consultation and a proposed copyright ordinance amendment.