Occupy Central

Don’t bring politics into court, Hong Kong Bar Association chief warns after ‘yellow’ remark in Occupy assault case

Paul Lam says it was ‘unbecoming’ of a barrister for a former policeman to question the political stance of the prosecutor

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 10:19pm

Hong Kong’s Bar Association chairman has warned against lawyers bringing politics into court a day after a barrister defending a policeman in an Occupy assault case questioned if the prosecutor was “yellow” – the symbolic colour of the civil disobedience movement.

Paul Lam Ting-kwok SC says that labelling the political affiliation of lawyers in the middle of legal proceedings would only deepen public misunderstanding of the rule of law.

Speaking at a ceremony for the appointment of a Senior Counsel yesterday morning, Lam cited the court case of former superintendent Frankly Chu, who is accused of striking a bystander with a baton during the 2014 Occupy protests.

At the Friday pretrial review, Chu’s counsel Peter Pannu, also a former policeman, argued that videos taken by Apple Daily with “sarcastic” voice-overs should not be used as evidence.

While the magistrate gave assurance that only visuals would be relied upon, Pannu stressed that prosecutors were still obliged to avoid using prejudicial materials.

He then said: “Unless he is yellow too.” The magistrate urged him not to say such things in court. Pannu later clarified to reporters that he was referring to the prosecutor, not the magistrate.

“It is unfortunate that the judiciary has been subject to misplaced, misconceived criticisms,” Lam told judges and lawyers attending the ceremony yesterday at the Court of Final Appeal.

Noting Pannu’s clarification, Lam said it was still “unhelpful and unbecoming of a counsel to ... give false perception that politics is relevant in court.”

Lam told reporters he only read about Pannu’s remarks in newspapers.

His comments come amid rising criticisms against judges in the wake of Occupy Central. Earlier this year, a judge’s decision to jail seven policemen for assaulting an Occupy protester came under abusive attack from police sympathisers and pro-establishment camp supporters.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, speaking at yesterday’s event, urged lawyers to maintain public confidence in the rule of law.

“Members of the public have ... been given at times confusing views regarding the state of law and how the legal system operates,” Ma said.

“This should not be a matter of any controversy at all, because the fundamentals of our legal system are contained in the Basic Law itself,” he said.

Abraham Chan Lok-shung, 38, the only barrister admitted to the inner bar this year, said he had not read about Pannu’s remark, but added that the role of the bar should be to “offer an objective view to any dispute and owe their first duty to the court”.

Pannu said he agreed with Lam and “that was exactly what I was alluding to, that there is no place for politics in the court, yellow or otherwise”. It was imperative prosecutions were conducted fairly and defended fearlessly with an overriding duty to the court.

Some media outlets had “deliberately misrepresented” what happened and created “a storm in a teacup”, he added.