Government lawyers facing abuse in court amid political anger, says top prosecutor

Keith Yeung says outbursts ‘simply cannot be a proper exercise of one’s freedom of speech’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 3:38pm

Hong Kong prosecutors face a regular barrage of malicious verbal abuse when attending court because of a surge in politically contentious cases, the city’s chief prosecutor said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keith Yeung Ka-hung SC summed up the difficulties his colleagues faced in an annual report for 2015 released by the Department of Justice on Friday.

“We respect differences in opinion. We welcome constructive suggestions or even criticisms,” Yeung wrote in the opening of the 102-page report, called Prosecutions Hong Kong 2015.

“However,” he wrote, “it is saddening to see that when my fellow colleagues attended court, especially in those [cases] perceived to be politically sensitive ones, they on growing occasions were subject to groundless, malicious, and unfair personal verbal abuse from certain members of the public.”

His comment came during widening political division since the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy protests that led to mass arrests in 2014.

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It also reflected a similar situation facing the judiciary. Just last week, a 12cm paper cutter was mailed to Kowloon City magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han, who has ruled on various cases arising from policial protests.

In July, Eastern Court convicted former student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, now a lawmaker, over their roles in the Occupy protests. And the trial of seven policemen accused of beating activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu at the same protest started this year, months after Tsang was convicted assaulting other police officers.

Trials like these have drawn protesters from across the political spectrum to gather both inside and outside court. As protests got tense, the abuse sometimes verged into targeting prosecutors.

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Yeung wrote: “It must not be forgotten that any act of lashing out in court proceedings, committed with no other intention except to bring the judiciary or prosecution into disrepute, simply cannot be a proper exercise of one’s freedom of speech.”

The director also addressed criticisms over the time his department takes to bring defendants to court.

He said the city’s 80 prosecutors needed time to make sure they made cases responsibly, citing a large volume of video evidence as a factor.

“This is particularly important for those sensitive and important public order events cases,” he said.

The report said that while the number of Court of First Instance cases for prosecutors dropped to 503 last year from 2014’s 540, cases at the District Court rose from 1,085 in 2014 to 1,115 last year.