As legal heavyweights squared off in Legco over a proposed independent director of public prosecutions yesterday, one question was on everyone's mind: did Grenville Cross - former chief prosecutor of 12 years and instigator of the push to separate the city's chief prosecutor from the politically appointed justice secretary - face political pressure in his time?
The answer appeared to be no.
Responding to Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing in the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services, Cross said that 'the system by and large is working quite well' but 'there is some room for improvement'.
Panel chairwoman Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee described some of Cross' decisions not to prosecute individuals as 'pretty stormy'.
'The most stormy ones, madam chairman, tended to be the ones where the minister was also involved,' he replied. 'Given that political considerations, so far as I'm aware, played no part in the decisions that were taken, it is ideal wherever possible to disengage the minister from the process.'
In one controversial decision, Cross did not prosecute media tycoon Sally Aw Sian in 1998 for alleged fraud. Then justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie said a prosecution would have caused the loss of many jobs, and so was not in the public interest.
Cross is now advocating for a director of public prosecutions who remains under the justice secretary, but who makes decisions on who to prosecute alone - a cause backed by Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo, but rejected by justice secretary Wong Yan-lung.
Wong told the panel that the chief prosecutor currently made the majority of prosecution decisions, and had his own discretion in bringing up sensitive cases with the justice secretary.
'As far as I can recall, basically in all cases I would reach a consensus with him,' Wong said. 'As to whether or not there have been individual cases where I did not see eye to eye with him, I do not recall any of those cases.'
Even without the appearance of actual political interference in the prosecution process - which would contravene the Basic Law - proponents still argue that making the separation black and white would put an end to suspicions.'The secretary of justice must know that it is his job not just to ensure that justice is done but that it's seen to be done,' Hoo told the panel.
Simon Young Ngai-man, of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, described the procedure as 'fire insurance', noting that there were also no allegations of political intervention in Canada when they separated their chief prosecutor in 2006.