A lawsuit against two newspapers alleging contempt of court over coverage of a murder case took a new turn yesterday as Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung asked the High Court to extend it to two reporters, in addition to two editors.
In a High Court writ, Yuen asked that reporters Luk Yu-ping and Law Yat-sing be jailed or fined for contempt of court. Yuen is asking the court for permission to lodge the application.
On July 30 Yuen filed an application against Apple Daily editor Cheung Kim-hung and Sharp Daily editor Li Pang-kay and the two papers for their roles in the coverage of a "double homicide" case.
According to the writ available yesterday, Yuen said the two reporters were guilty of contempt for "publishing, causing or permitting to be published or being responsible for or having played a significant role" in the publication of an article and a video.
A finding of contempt of court can result from publication of any material deemed likely to jeopardise a fair trial.
The court documents have not identified the articles published apart from saying they ran on March 20 and related to a "double homicide" case.
Both newspapers had an exclusive interview with Henry Chau Hoi-leung, 29, who in March was accused with his friend, Tse Chun-Kei, 35, of murdering and dismembering his parents at Tse's Tai Kok Tsui apartment.
Chau was interviewed in Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, where he had been remanded, and spoke freely about the case. Apple Daily also published a video on its website, the writs said.
The writ yesterday also said that Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor on July 31 granted leave to the secretary to make the application for committal against the editors and newspapers.
Simon Young, law professor at the University of Hong Kong who is also a barrister, said when deciding whether a person was guilty of contempt of court, the court would look at the degree to which the fair trial of a defendant was jeopardised and the degree of interference with the administration of justice.
He said a person would be guilty if there was a risk rather than actual prejudice. He added that the content of the articles was "extremely prejudicial".
Media law professor Doreen Weisenhaus said: "Generally you go after the proprietor, the publisher, distributor and editor. It's unusual to go after the reporters. It's not the tradition here."
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "The government fully respects the freedom of the press. However, the Secretary for Justice, at the same time, has a duty to protect public interest, so as to ensure that everyone facing criminal prosecution will have a fair trial."
The two reporters are due to appear in court on September 6.