• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 11:09pm
Occupy Central
NewsHong Kong
LAW AND ORDER

Prosecuting large numbers of Occupy activists 'not in public interest'

Former chief prosecutor warns against trying to convict large numbers of protesters, saying it would clog up the courts and be unpopular

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 5:29pm

Public prosecutors would be acting against the public interest if they brought each and every Occupy Central protester to court instead of focusing their efforts on the "ringleaders", a former chief prosecutor said.

To do so could clog up the courts for years and would only generate more social sympathy, if not demonstrations, in support of the civil disobedience movement, said Grenville Cross SC.

Prosecution, he reiterated, was "a sanction of last resort".

It should not apply to all arrested protesters even if enough evidence was found, said Cross, who ended 12 years as director of public prosecutions in 2009.

In response, the Department of Justice said its paramount consideration was to "maintain the rule of law and to act in the best interest of Hong Kong".

In any prosecutions, the department said, "relevant considerations include whether the available evidence supports a reasonable prospect of conviction and, if so, whether it is in the public interest to prosecute".

Past protests have seen only a handful of those arrested being charged.

But Occupy has stoked more than its fair share of antagonism. Uncertainty shrouds the fate of its participants after not only Hong Kong, but also Beijing officials, fired off fierce pre-emptive criticisms one after another, displaying a rare hard-line stance against any local demonstration.

Business leaders, including Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land and Peter Woo Kwong-ching of Wharf (Holdings), have also spoken out against it.

Occupy organisers are eyeing a 10,000-strong sit-in to block thoroughfares in the business centre if Beijing sets guidelines on Hong Kong's chief executive election in 2017 that fall short of international standards on democracy. Beijing's decision is expected this month.

Cross said that he expected prosecutors and police to tread cautiously, "bearing in mind that restraint has much to commend it, that formal warnings can be beneficial".

"Quite clearly, even if they [prosecutors] have enough evidence, it would not be in the public interest for the authorities to prosecute thousands of people."

If that did happen, "the judicial system would, at the very least, be seriously disrupted, and might even, in a worst-case scenario, grind to a halt".

He cited another reason: "To prosecute large numbers of people could be counterproductive, arousing sympathy for the accused, who would try to pose as martyrs.

"If the point is reached when prosecution is necessary, then the people to be prosecuted should be the ringleaders and the most culpable, rather than secondary figures and small fry."

Cross noted that in 2011 the Department of Justice charged only four of 113 people arrested during an unauthorised protest against the annual budget bill.

"To have prosecuted all 113 suspects would have been a logistical nightmare," he said. "Even if convictions had resulted, the sentences would have been light, and not such as to justify a prosecution on such a scale."

Occupy organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who is also a University of Hong Kong legal scholar, agreed with Cross' views.

Joe Chan Cho-kwong, chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, said the number of arrestees eventually charged "would not affect the police's enforcement of the law".

 

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This article is now closed to comments

skypingly
In general the laws in Hong Kong are good laws. Anyone who break the law should be punished. Justice has to be seen to be done and meted out in a timely manner for the protection of law and order. In any case everyone in HK has supported the rule of law. The leaders who has incited people to break the law that has affected the livelihood of a large sector of people and are unrepentant should be given the full extend of the punishment allowed in law. Many groups of people such as all the Chambers of Commerce, international accounting firms, mini bus association, prominent business leaders and a huge number of the population has shown that they are against occupy central, as this would affect their live hood and freedom. Only some academics, students and political parties have shown support for occupy central. Their contribution to the economy and well being of Hong Kong society is substantially less than the other group. This should be taken into consideration when public interest is considered. HK should be taught that the views of a substantial part of the population should be respected even if their views differ. Laws in HK are enacted for the good of society.
ejmciii
More scare tactics to stop people from exercising their rights of free speech and free expression. Nothing has happened. No roads have been blocked. No stores have been attacked. No offices have slowed down. And yet the Masters in Beijing continue to press their minions in the Executive Branch to bring HK to heel. It really does make one sick to his stomach, especially with the Beijing Minion Choir telling us how this is all for our own good since we do not want to upset the masters.
captam
@"Joe Chan Cho-kwong, chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, said the number of arrestees eventually charged "would not affect the police's enforcement of the law".'
So we now have official police policy being announced in the press by junior police officers association representatives.
Why do we have a Commissioner of Police and over twenty senior officers of assistant commissioner grade in a supposedly "disciplined" force if junior policemen are now allowed to make public statements on what actions the force will take. Sorry to say this but the 'Brits' would never have allowed this situation to develop.
Dao-Phooy
A timely article as the reality of a criminal record isn't a foregone conclusion. All of this doom and gloom about participation has left out the decision to:1prosecute and then 2 court proceedings. It's known as due process and thankfully, HK still has it as well as the rule of law.
chaz_hen
"Business leaders, including Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land and Peter Woo Kwong-ching of Wharf (Holdings), have also spoken out against it."
Three good reasons to join in or support Occupy Central.
chaz_hen
"Anyone who break the law should be punished." Tell that to the police when it comes to bad driving and illegal parking. A lot of selective law enforcement in this city.
MingBaakMei
Bravo Mr Cross! Four persons charged out of 113 persons equates with 3.5%. Furthermore you say if all 113 had been charged it would have been a logistical nightmare.
So if 20,000 participate in Occupying Central, with your conservative prosecution rate of 3.5%, only 700 person will appear in court! An even greater logistical nightmare!
Might I suggest all those who oversee the prosecution and trial of those arrested prepare their staff for the inevitable influx now.
mrgoodkat
What have the "Chambers of Commerce, international accounting firms, mini bus association, prominent business leaders " contributed to HK's society? In HK you are either in property and finance or you are poor. With stagnant salaries and 20% of our population living below the poverty line you can hardly say the government or the business groups have contributed to society. Unless of course you count 17 sqm flats for approx 10 years salary a "contribution"
skypingly
Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita GDP in the world because of a robust economy of supporting services like New York and London. That is why the people that produce such services are important. That is also why the property is expensive like New York and London. However I agree that we can have better more affordable housing. This is prevented by the people that advocates for better housing. More than 50 per cent of the land in HK are country parks or squatters who do do not have rights to the land. When government wants to take a portion of the land to provide housing the very people who advocate for better housing are up in arms to the extend of being abusive. We cannot have the cake and eat it. Things get more difficult to achieve and we are falling behind. We are already behind Singapore and I can see other cities in china overtaking HK. China is becoming more capitalistic and HK more communistic in its action. Hong Kong is a place where frogs and insects can have a good life but people have to crowd in a small space allocated for public housing. With the cooperation of the people that advocates for better housing we can be more efficient in our land use
skypingly
Spoken like a true communist during Lenin's time. Kill all the bourgeois rich, burn their houses, they are exploiting the poor. Let us have a society that is equal where wealth is shared out equally amonst all people. An idedalistic thought which can only work when all man are perfect or as can be seen historically such ideals kill initiative, hard work, innovation and lowers production.

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