Former Hong Kong prosecutor Grenville Cross not retiring quietly

Feisty former DPP is a professor at more than one university and is also not afraid to speak up, as present DPP Kevin Zervos discovered

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 8:57am

Four years after bowing out of the directorship of public prosecutions, arguably the second most influential post in the Department of Justice, Grenville Cross is no less busy.

Just last week, the spirited 62-year-old took aim at his latest target: Kevin Zervos, the incumbent DPP who will be leaving the job on Sunday.

Zervos was blamed for failing to push the graft-buster to speed up checks into former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's alleged acceptance of advantageous treatment from tycoons while in office.

It sparked a war of words rarely seen between legal eagles who hailed from the same government department - not to mention Tsang's was a case replete with sensitivities including criminal justice and the rule of law.

By next week, Zervos will almost certainly have left behind a pile of files marked "pending" - files with names that could have come from a Who's Who: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, former Independent Commission Against Corruption chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming, and Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, to name a few.

That made it all the more important Zervos should not dump the long-running hot potatoes into his successor's lap, Cross argued, especially since the DPP was an expert on corruption cases. "This is not fair to Tsang, this is not fair to [successor] Keith Yeung [Kar-hung], and this is not fair to Hong Kong, to its criminal justice system," Cross said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

He then tempered his words, clarifying he did not mean to put Zervos in a corner, acknowledging that the incumbent "has done his best" in his two years in office.

In response, Zervos said the ICAC's investigation progress was determined by its pace of evidence gathering, which, in Tsang's case, was complicated by the involvement of jurisdictions elsewhere.

The former chief executive came under investigation on February 25 last year for allegedly accepting favours in Shenzhen and Macau.

Zervos even called Cross "out of date" and "out of touch", saying he should not have made such remarks without sufficient knowledge about the case.

Cross took charge of the prosecutions division amid a turbulent political climate in 1997. The latest outburst is not the first time he has targeted the department since making way for Ian McWalters. Why not set up an independent DPP, he suggested, which would operate within the justice department but be free of the control of the Secretary for Justice, a political appointee?

He said UN guidelines on prosecutors and the International Association of Prosecutors, in its standards of professional responsibility, both "recognise the importance of the independent exercise of prosecutorial discretion".

Cross is vice-chairman of the management committee of the association's senate. He also chairs the association's standing committee on prosecutors in difficulty, helping those around the world who face unfair treatment - from forced removal at gunpoint to unfavourable pay and benefits.

On the national level, he has been advising the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, where academics were responsible for contributing ideas to a rewritten criminal procedure code announced this year.

And in Hong Kong, he is a champion of giving wider attention to children's rights.

"These roles are fulfilling in their own way," he said.

Cross grew up in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England. He studied law at the University of Southampton and was called to the Bar in 1974. A mere four years later, the 26-year-old barrister set out for the bright lights of Hong Kong, pinning his hopes on nothing more than a newspaper advertisement offering a vacancy with the Legal Department.

It was to be the start of more than three decades as a government lawyer.

His career culminated shortly after the handover in his appointment as DPP, an office he held until 2009.

And now, he has words for not just the outgoing Zervos, but also the incoming Yeung, 48, the first Chinese to be chosen for the position by any post-handover administration.

Yeung is a private barrister specialising in commercial crime and fraud litigation - a focus of his career that Cross believes will be of use next May in the city's biggest-ever corruption trial in sight, involving Sun Hung Kai Properties and former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan.

But Yeung, Cross said, would have a bigger role to play in nurturing new blood, considering how the department tends to rely on overseas counsel, mainly British, to handle massive cases such as the Hui-Sun Hung Kai trial.

Yeung, coming from the private sector, was the first person to break a chain that dated back to the handover when the top job was succeeded from within the prosecution division, Cross noted. "He has to make sure the prosecutors are properly trained to be able to take up higher responsibilities," he said.

Yeung's appointment meant "there was no one suitable to take up the job of DPP [from the department]. So who could succeed him in due course?"

While expecting the incoming DPP to stay low-key at least at the start, Cross said this was not necessarily a bad thing.

"Substance is what counts," he proclaimed. "Not noise."


Grenville Cross

1973 Obtained degree in law from the University of Southampton

1974 Called to the Bar of England and Wales
1978 Crown Counsel in the Attorney General's Chambers in Hong Kong
1990 Appointed Queen's Counsel (now Senior Counsel)
1997-2009 Director of Public Prosecutions
2010 Awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star

Honorary professor of the University of Hong Kong,
Visiting professor of Chinese University,
Adjunct professor of China University of Political Science and Law, Beijing