Occupy Central

Occupy protesters’ lawyer argues Hong Kong justice chief ‘stumbled’ in contempt of court charge

Counsel for arrested pro-democracy activists claims six-month time limit in which to prosecute offence has lapsed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 10:11pm

The city’s top justice official “stumbled” when he decided to charge 30 protesters including student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung with contempt of court after they were arrested over an Occupy clearance in 2014, a Hong Kong court heard on Thursday.

Representing the protesters, senior counsel Gerard McCoy argued the government faced a six-month time limit in which to prosecute a minor offence, meaning court action should have now lapsed.

Although Secretary of Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung was authorised to bring a case against the defendants due to public interest, he said, “in this case, he stumbled”.

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The 30, who were not required to attend the hearing at the Court of Appeal on Thursday, asked for its permission to appeal after it allowed justice officials to instigate proceedings against them following a string of court battles challenging the prosecutor’s’ compliance with legal procedures.

The 30 who decided to appeal are among the 37 presently pursued by prosecutors for allegedly obstructing bailiff officers from clearing occupied roads in Mong Kok on November 26, 2014, as the pro-democracy protests wound down.

McCoy said the present case stemmed from the appearance of the 37 at a magistrate court facing a charge of obstructing bailiffs under the Summary Offences Ordinance. The charge carries a six-month time limit.

The charge was later withdrawn. Instead, the 37 were brought to the High Court for contempt of court by the transport organisations that employed the bailiff officers. The Department of Justice eventually took over the case.

In the most recent development on July 19, the court allowed prosecutors to press ahead with contempt of court under High Court rules, which impose no time limit for the charge.

But McCoy argued on Thursday that, given the background of the case, the time limit should apply to the criminal contempt of court offence the prosecutors now pursued.

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It was the prosecutors, he said, who established the linkage. “Now it cannot be unshackled,” he said before Chief Judge of the High Court Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon and Mr Justice Andrew Macrae.

McCoy said he made his argument based on the Bill of Rights and principle of legality.

In an earlier slip-up, prosecutors were forced to drop the court proceedings after they failed to file court documents on time against 17 of the activists. But they were subsequently allowed to issue fresh summonses against them.

The Court of Appeal was to hear the justice secretary’s position later Thursday.