Hong Kong student ordered to pay court costs over legal challenge on green-belt sites

Judge says applicant must take responsibility for his actions and therefore pay a portion of a HK$1.9 million legal bill

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 9:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 11:24pm

A Hong Kong student who lost his court bid to block plans to build flats on green-belt sites had to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions and pay an unspecified portion of a HK$1.9 million legal bill, the High Court ruled on Friday.

The court also warned Yau Ka-po, a legal aid recipient, against abusing the assistance mechanism.

Madam Justice Queeny Au Yeung Kwai-yue stated: “Public funds should not be misused.”

In reply to a Post inquiry, the Legal Aid Department echoed the judge’s views.

“Legal aid is to assist those who lack means and should in no way be abused,” the department said.

Yau, a student at the Education University, applied for a judicial review in May 2015 over a Town Planning Board decision to rezone the sites in Tai Po.

After giving permission for a substantive hearing, Au Yeung found there had been “serious material non-disclosure” by the student.

According to her ruling handed down in June last year, the undisclosed items showed the government had made certain references to reviews of the green-belt sites in question. Had there been disclosure of such items, a number of statements in Yau’s case would have been rendered untrue, the judge said.

She dismissed the case on the grounds that its continuation would amount to abuse of court process and ordered the student to bear the Town Planning Board’s legal costs, which were assessed at HK$900,000.

Au Yeung also asked the student to explain why he should not personally bear his own costs, which are said to have totalled about HK$1 million.

The judge also discussed the matter with relevant parties, including the Legal Aid Department, in a closed-door session.

Au Yeung said later in open court that she would approve a settlement between the student, who did not attend the session, and other parties over costs.

The judge said Yau had apologised to the court for what he had done.

In his submission, the “remorseful” student claimed he could be “bankrupted” if he was required to personally bear his own legal costs and that of the winning party.

But in deciding how much Yau, who had pursued the lawsuit with legal aid, should pay, the judge said he had to accept responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

Au Yeung said the student should not be exempted from paying legal costs on grounds that he did not have the money.

The settlement was reached based on a recognition that public funds should not be wasted, she added.

The court ordered that the terms of the settlement be kept confidential.

“We are therefore not able to disclose any details,” the Legal Aid Department said.