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Courts must crack down on abuse of judicial reviews

The judiciary must screen out frivolous or malicious applications; after all, a judicial review is not a political tool or a platform to voice discontent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:15pm

More than a year after retired Court of Final Appeal judge Henry Litton warned against the widespread abuse of judicial reviews for political purposes, the trend has continued unabated.

Until recently, it was the political weapon of choice for many pan-democratic and anti-government groups. Now, some pro-Beijing activists have followed suit. There have been at least three applications for judicial reviews since October on the subject of localist lawmakers who failed to take their oaths of office properly. This was despite legal cases already launched at the time by the government against those legislators.

Hong Kong government given green light for judicial reviews over lawmakers’ oaths

Now, the latest is an application by Cary Lo Chun-yu, a law student, seeking a judicial review of the government’s planned Hong Kong Palace Museum at the arts hub in West Kowloon. He claims there should have been a public consultation and a tendering process for the project’s chief architect. This is despite the fact that a public consultation has now been launched.

Which serves the public interest more – Lo’s judicial review or a museum to showcase the nation’s treasure at no significant cost to the public? After all, the Jockey Club has agreed to foot the HK$3.5 billion bill. Lo says he has no political ties. But he is part of the new activist JR group, which aims to provide free service, information and advice for people to launch judicial reviews.

Litton has warned that the abuse of judicial reviews has not only brought harm to the entire community and undermined the rule of law, it has also been “facilitated” by the courts because of the ease with which a case is accepted. But even the retired judge could not have foreseen we would have a group that actually runs on launching judicial reviews as a political platform.

Hong Kong courts accomplices to abuse of judicial reviews, says former top judge Henry Litton

There is hope, though. Madam Justice Queeny Au Yeung Kwai-yue last week halted a review case launched by Yau Ka-po, an Education University student who was granted legal aid. He was found to be responsible for “serious material non-disclosure” in his challenge over the rezoning of a green-belt site in Tai Po. The High Court judge ruled the case amounted to an abuse of court process and ordered Yau to pay an unspecified portion of a HK$1.9 million legal bill. Let that be a lesson.

The judiciary must screen out frivolous or malicious applications and make those like Yau pay for costs. A judicial review is not a political tool or a platform to voice discontent.