Magistrate rejects bias claim ahead of ‘Long Hair’ trial, despite lawmaker’s previous criticism

‘What if someone made high-profile criticism against all judges in Hong Kong?’ asked Eastern Court magistrate Joseph To Ho-shing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 10:31pm

A magistrate has rejected calls to step down from a trial of “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, despite claims by the defence he might show bias due to the lawmaker’s open criticism of him in the past.

Eastern Court’s acting principal magistrate Joseph To Ho-shing said it was not a normal practice for a judge to recuse from a case, save for exceptional circumstances, or it would create the wrong message that people can handpick their judges.

“What if someone made high-profile criticism against all judges, one by one naming them. Would that mean no judge in Hong Kong can try him?” To asked.

Leung and his co-defendant Tam Tak-chi from People Power were previously brought before magistrate David Chum Yau-fong for pretrial reviews on a charge of obstruction following the storming of Sing Tao News Corporation’s school debating competition in May last year

The lawmaker had told then-principal magistrate Bina Chainrai in February that he had no objection for his case to be dealt by magistrates who handled his cases before, with the condition: “Save for Joseph To.”

Leung’s lawyer Douglas Kwok King-hin said on Wednesday it was their understanding that Chainrai made the arrangement for his client to be tried by other judges, such as Chum, as there might be embarrassment when Leung had openly criticised To many times.

But To countered that Chainrai was not told what Leung had said before, and said he was certain that he had never handled the lawmaker’s trials.

The exchange between the pair took place in quick succession like a ping pong match as To repeatedly fired questions at the lawyer, with Kwok at one point stating: “You’ve interrupted me too many times, I cannot elaborate.”

Leung, seated behind his lawyer, was also pulled into the game as To twice remarked that he was distracted by the lawmaker’s small gestures like smiling and nodding.

“A trial is a highly focused and concentrated process,” the magistrate said. “Don’t make unnecessary gestures, I have to ensure that I can completely hear the submissions.”

Leung and Tam are facing a five-day trial for allegedly obstructing, disturbing, interrupting or annoying other people who were lawfully using the Queen Elizabeth Stadium during the 30th Sing Tao Inter-School Debating Competition on May 15 last year.

The event was attended by 2,424 students, parents, teachers and guests such as Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former Bar Association chairman Paul Shieh Wing-tai and then-director of information services Patrick Nip Tak-kuen.

Organiser Cheng Yin-ling from Sing Tao testified there were up to 90 protesters chanting slogans and waving banners when she escorted Lam into the venue.

“I recognised the famous protesters, including Leung Kwok-hung and Tam Tak-chi,” she said. “I especially noticed that after they used megaphones and microphones to shout, they incited more people to join them.”

She recalled the protesters shouted “Lam sick Yuet-ngor” and threw paper balls that she caught before they struck Lam.

The disturbance, she said, made organisers change their programme, cancel Lam’s speech and remove a photoshoot as protesters repeatedly ignored requests and “warm reminders” for them to quieten down and respect the event. They also incurred extra costs in hiring security to ensure Lam’s safety.

“[Shieh and Nip] gave speeches but most of the content could not be heard,” Cheng said. “It was an unfortunate waste of manpower and resources.”

The trial continues.