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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Prosecuting ‘Long Hair’ Leung for folder snatch incident ‘unconstitutional’, court hears

Former lawmaker faces contempt of the legislature charge over 2016 incident

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 10:44pm

Prosecuting a former pro-democracy lawmaker for contempt of the legislature after he snatched documents from an official during a parliamentary meeting in 2016 was “unconstitutional”, a court heard on Monday.

Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung, 61, is the first since 1990 to face the contempt charge under section 17(c) of the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance in the capacity of his office.

Leung, who was disqualified for failing to take a proper oath last year, denied the offence.

Barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, defending Leung, told the West Kowloon Court on Monday that for prosecutors to press contempt charges against lawmakers, it would involve an “unconstitutional” approach to a piece of legislation set up to do the exact opposite.

The ordinance is intended to protect lawmakers’ privileges and immunities, and therefore should only be applied to non-members of the Legco who were witnesses called to testify at the legislature, she said.

Hong Kong lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung’s Legco folder snatch of confidential documents is reported to police

“The prosecution’s interpretation [that lawmakers can be held for contempt] may well be unconstitutional,” Ng added.

Leung is accused of causing a disturbance when he took a folder from former Undersecretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung at the Legislative Council on November 15, 2016, after Ma and other officials failed to answer questions on a controversial development project.

The government engaged engineering firm Arup to carry out a study on a public housing project in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, earlier. But it was later found out that the firm had leaked confidential internal data when it was engaged in a separate project by property conglomerate New World Development to build a private residential development in Wing Ning Tsuen, next to the Wang Chau.

Leung was a pan-democrat lawmaker at the time, but was stripped of his seat over his invalid oath last year.

At issue now is the wording of the provision in question, which states that “any person” who creates a disturbance that interrupts a Legco proceeding will be found guilty of the offence.

Ng said the offence should be confined to those who come before the legislature to testify and be examined.

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The barrister, a former lawmaker herself, also said the court should not punish a lawmaker for his or her conduct unless there were unlawful acts involved, due to parliamentary privilege. It would be overriding the Legco president’s job to do so, she said.

But the assistant director of public prosecutions, Derek Lai Kim-wah, countered, saying that the actual intent of the ordinance was to “facilitate the Legco to conduct its constitutional functions without interference.”

He conceded that past cases had not concluded whether a Legco member was covered by this offence. But those cases certainly showed it was not confined to Legco witnesses, he added.

The case continues before acting Principal Magistrate Ada Yim on Tuesday.