Hong Kong Uber drivers will face criminal trial after defence case flops

Lawyers for five Uber drivers who were planning to argue that they had a constitutional defence conceded that in light of a new Court of Appeal judgment, which dealt with the same issue, their case would fail

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 2:58am

Hong Kong Uber drivers facing criminal charges will stand trial after failing to raise a constitutional defence that people should be given the freedom to choose their jobs.

Lawyers for the drivers conceded their argument was doomed to fail at Kowloon City Court on Tuesday in light of a separate judgment handed down by the Court of Appeal concerning a barrister who challenged his professional body for refusing to let him work a second job as a “body figuring practitioner”.

Hong Kong court rules Bar Association’s restriction over second jobs nothing to do with constitutional rights

The failure to succeed on human rights grounds at the pre-trial hearings means that five drivers will be tried on November 30, the city’s first, joining a string of litigations the ride-hailing company is currently facing around the world. Another driver pleaded guilty without a trial earlier.

Chan Kin-fung, Chan Tsz-lun, Lau Kwan-wing, Sunny Leung Hoi-shun, and Luk Chun-pong, aged between 29 and 53, each deny one count of driving a vehicle for hire without a permit and one count of using a vehicle without third-party insurance between August 11 and 12 last year.

Earlier, lawyers for the five Uber drivers contended that Article 33 of the Basic Law guaranteed freedom of occupation, in that it should be construed as people were allowed to choose their professions.

But the prosecutors countered that the article only states people had the choice whether to work or not - an interpretation confirmed by the Court of Appeal judgment handed down on Friday morning.

Barrister Albert Leung Sze-ho successfully challenged the Bar Association at the High Court earlier in not allowing him to work on the side as a body figuring practitioner, based on concerns that it might bring adverse effect to the professional body’s reputation. He relied on the wider interpretation of Article 33 of the Basic Law, on which the Uber case depends.

But on Friday morning, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s decision, giving a more restrained interpretation.

“On that basis, this application must fail on the judgment of the Court of Appeal,” defence counsel Derek Chan said.

Magistrate So Wai-tak, who presides over the Uber case and was required to rule on the same argument over on Friday, said he had prepared a 27-page ruling that shared the Court of Appeal’s view.

The drivers were not required to attend the hearing, but were asked to attend during the trial itself.

So adjourned the case to November 16 for another pre-trial session before the trial.