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Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Trial of two ousted Hong Kong lawmakers who stormed Legco meeting delayed by legal disagreement

The defence disagreed with the prosecution’s addition of four new witnesses without getting special leave from Legco, resulting in the trial being postponed to Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 9:12pm

The trial of two ousted pro-Hong Kong independence lawmakers and their three personal assistants for unlawful assembly, due to begin on Monday, was postponed by a day after the defence claimed the prosecution did not follow proper procedures in summoning new witnesses.

The lawmakers – Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching – and their three assistants Yeung Lai-hong, Chung Suet-ying and Cheung Tsz-lung earlier this year pleaded not guilty to storming a meeting at the city’s legislature last November.

Eight Legco employees – seven security officers who saw the chaos and a technology officer who provided surveillance footage of the incident – were due to testify in the trial.

But after the five defendants, who are all aged 30 and below, agreed to the facts of the case at a pre-trial session in July, the prosecution added four other Legco employees to its witness list. It did not ask for special permission from Legco, like it had with the eight witnesses.

The Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance stipulates that no Legco officer can give evidence elsewhere without the council’s special leave.

As the trial was about to begin on Monday, barrister Douglas Kwok King-hin, representing Leung and Yau, raised the issue of the four new witnesses and asked for part of the agreed facts of the case to be withdrawn.

Kwok said: “We agreed to the facts because we believed that the prosecution would not be making such mistakes … But the prosecution did not do their job well.”

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Kwok also sought to clarify the process of granting special leave, as the Legco secretariat’s assistant secretary general Dora Wai had informed the justice department of its approval to summon the eight witnesses. However, Legco house rules state that the secretary general, Kenneth Chen Wei-on, should be responsible for telling the department.

The department’s senior assistant director of public prosecutions, Jonathan Man Tak-ho, initially argued that special leave was not required for the four Legco officers and said “the agreed facts must not be withdrawn so easily”.

But Man later backtracked and asked for the trial to be suspended for the day so he could address Kwok’s points.

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Magistrate Wong Sze-lai agreed and adjourned the trial until Tuesday morning.

The five defendants in May pleaded not guilty to one joint count of unlawful assembly over the storming which took place outside a conference room at Legco on November 2, 2016.

They also denied a second joint count of forcible entry. As the second charge is an alternative to the first, the defendants can only be found guilty of one of the two charges.

Yau and Leung were banned from taking part in the meeting last year after they displayed anti-China antics during the Legco swearing-in ceremony for lawmakers elected earlier in September.

They were not sworn in and were subsequently stripped of their seats by the High Court, with their final bid to overturn the ruling was dismissed by the Court of Final Appeal in August this year.

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The charge of unlawful assembly carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, while the charge of forcible entry carries a maximum fine of HK$5,000 or two years in prison.

In October, Leung and Yau were taken to court by the Legco commission – which handles the administrative matters of Legco – for the return of some HK$930,000 in wages and subsidies paid to each of them, as their entitlement to the funds was conditional upon them being confirmed as members of Legco.