Anger as Hong Kong lawmakers vote to allow Legco staff to produce evidence against Leung Kwok-hung
Pan-democratic legislator faces court action over failure to declare money he received from media boss Jimmy Lai in 2012
The Legislative Council voted on Thursday to allow its staff to produce evidence against “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung over a misconduct case, a move the democratic camp says amounts to abandoning the legal protection enjoyed by lawmakers in debates.
With permission given, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be able to obtain the records of 12 meetings and get five Legco officers who compiled the records to testify in the criminal case, which centres on Leung’s alleged failure to declare to Legco his receipt of HK$250,000 from Apple Daily boss Jimmy Lai Chee-ying in 2012.
The trial will start in the middle of next year.
Under the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance, freedom of speech in the council “shall not be liable to be questioned in any court or place outside the council”, and no legal proceedings shall be instituted against any member for any words spoken or written in the council. Legco officers must obtain special leave to give evidence in relation to meeting records.
Granting such leave to give evidence against Leung would have a “chilling effect” on Legco members, said Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who tabled a motion opposing the granting of permission.
“The search for evidence by the DOJ has intruded into our privilege,” the pan-democrat lawmaker said. “I am disappointed that some lawmakers are surrendering our own protection and destroying the separation of powers.”
His motion was voted down due to opposition from the pro-establishment camp.
In September, Legco clerk Kenneth Chen Wei-on advised the Justice Department that the 126 documents it wanted contained Leung’s speeches, which were covered by privilege. He pressed the department to explain why it needed them.
The department responded by cutting the number of files it wanted to 12. It said they were needed to prove Leung knew about disclosure of interest requirements and that he committed serious misconduct as a lawmaker.
The Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok said the debate was not about Leung’s case per se but about the protection of lawmakers’ freedom of speech.
He said the prosecution should get Leung’s lawyers to agree on certain facts such as the lawmaker’s presence at the meetings, instead of taking the step to press Legco to surrender documents, even though they were in the public domain.
“I wonder how the prosecution will make use of the documents. Will they use them to query Leung’s motives?”
But pro-Beijing lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan said Legco should “let the judge be the fair gatekeeper” and decide whether the documents should be admitted as evidence.
Paul Tse Wai-chun agreed, but added that more time should have been given to let Legco consider the request.