A leading karaoke chain yesterday won an appeal against a conviction for operating one of its branches without a licence after the prosecutor found out at the last minute that justice chiefs had not authorised the prosecution.
The revelation came just before Mr Justice Pang Kin-kee was due to deliver his judgment in the Court of First Instance on the appeal by Growson, the management company of CEO Neway Karaoke.
Told that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department had just realised it had not obtained necessary authorisation from the Justice Department, the judge quashed the conviction.
He ordered Growson to be refunded a HK$3,500 fine it had paid for operating its Mong Kok branch without a licence.
The judge also ruled that Growson should be awarded legal costs, as the case had not been brought with the proper procedure and the prosecution had dropped its case at the last minute.
Senior public prosecutor Lily Ho May-yu said outside court that the hygiene department did not have the power to prosecute although its officers had full rights to investigate.
The case was launched against Growson in May and it was found guilty by deputy special magistrate Gloriane Hui Ying-ying in Kwun Tong Court on May 16 of operating a karaoke branch without a valid licence on July 25 last year.
The court heard the licence had expired on March 5 last year. Lawyer Raymond Yu Chiu-cheuk, for Growson, argued in the appeal that the law did not apply in the case.
Mr Yu had contended that the law required licences for premises where the karaoke activity was carried on in not more than three rooms with an aggregate floor area of not more than 30 square metres.
He said at the time of last year's inspection there were only two rooms in use by customers.
Ms Ho argued that the exemption was intended to apply only to small private clubs where limited karaoke service was provided. She said the exemption did not apply to this particular Neway outlet.
The appeal judge did not rule on this issue as he had decided the case on a technical reason.