National Day ferry disaster captain hires QC

Case is likely to be 'cut-throat' between two captains accused of manslaughter: judge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 5:17am

A captain involved in the National Day ferry collision that killed 39 passengers almost two years ago has received court permission to hire a Queen's Counsel to fight his case against manslaughter in November.

Chow Chi-wai, of HK Electric vessel Lamma IV, will be represented by James Turner QC together with a local senior counsel and a junior barrister, the High Court heard.

Chow and Lai Sai-ming, captain of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry's Sea Smooth, both face manslaughter charges for each of the 31 adults and eight children who died in the October 1, 2012, marine disaster.

In allowing the application, the chief judge of the High Court said the case was unusually complex.

"The case is likely to be a cut-throat one between the two accused, while the prosecution is seeking to prove charges against both of the accused," Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said.

The jury trial, starting in November, is expected to last 60 days in the High Court.

Turner was an expert on issues of collision and navigation, the court heard yesterday.

Neither the Secretary for Justice nor the Bar Association opposed Chow's application.

The Secretary for Justice took the view that having Turner on board would be in the public interest, given the complexity of the issues.

Chow and Lai are accused of unlawfully killing 39 people by gross negligence. The victims died on October 1, 2 and 5 that year, some at the scene and others in hospital.

Court documents say Chow owed a duty of care to his passengers, and Lai to other vessels and their passengers.

The pair are said to have breached that duty of care by failing to keep a proper lookout and failing to take any effective measures to avoid the collision. This negligence is alleged to be a substantial cause of the deaths.

Cheung reminded Lai's solicitor and reporters in court that Chow's documents filed for the admission of Turner were not meant for public knowledge.

The documents included details of his proposed defence case, which were provided only for the purposes of yesterday's application, the judge said.

"A defendant is presumed innocent," Cheung said. "[The documents] cannot for any other purposes be disclosed lest it may affect the fairness of the coming trial."