Two villagers in Hong Kong face trial over illegally-built fourth floor at their home

Two men are accused of ignoring order by the government to remove fourth floor built at their home in Sheung Shui

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 3:52am


Two New Territories' villagers who ignored a government order to remove an illegally built fourth floor at their home will face trial in October, after the court case was delayed for months.

Hau Kwok-cheung and his nephew Li Kwan-kwai are each charged with one count of failing to comply with a Buildings Department removal order against an illegal structure at their house in Kam Tsin village, Sheung Shui. A court summons said the order was issued as early as 2009.

Officers found that even as late as last October, the family had failed to act on the order.

It is the first case taken to court after the government's crackdown on illegal structures last year.

At a pretrial hearing in Fanling Court yesterday, Principal Magistrate Josiah Lam Wai-kuen criticised the two for dragging their feet in the case.

It was first heard in January but was postponed four times as Hau requested time to study the charges and seek legal advice.

Hau, who contends that his house is not subject to a three-storey limit under the small-house policy, yesterday said he could not afford a lawyer and would prepare a defence himself.

But the judge said the case should not drag on, saying the trial would be held for five days in October regardless of whether Hau and Li failed to hire a lawyer.

Lam questioned why the pair could not find legal counsel "at a reasonable price" and said rural leaders should have explained rules to them.

Dozens of villagers filled the court yesterday and a Sheung Shui District Rural Committee leader, Hau Chi-keung, said the two had not hired a lawyer "because they did nothing wrong, so they do not need someone to help them argue".

Indigenous residents are allowed to build houses of no more than three storeys, with each floor not exceeding 700 sq ft, under a small-house policy introduced in 1972.

The Development Bureau launched a reporting scheme from April to September, which allowed villagers to report unauthorised structures built before June 28 last year and posed little risk to the public.

Those who registered before that period are given more time to remove the structures, but those with "severe" violations, such as breaching the height limit on houses, would immediately be served with demolition notices.

Hau Kwok-cheung asked the court why he and Li were charged when the registration period was still ongoing. He said his house was listed under the old schedule lots - surveyed a century ago - which some rural leaders said were exempt from height limits.

But the judge said the registration system should not apply to Hau because it covered only minor violations.