Striking dockers and unionists are allowed to continue camping outside the Cheung Kong Center in Central until a formal hearing on a permanent injunction against them is heard around July, the court ruled yesterday.
The decision came just hours before the Kwai Tsing port workers accepted a 9.8 per cent pay rise offered by four dock contractors and announced an end to their 40-day walkout.
An interim injunction will continue to bar them from entering the flagship building of Cheung Kong, the corporate empire of Li Ka-shing.
The Court of First Instance also told them to remove temporary structures they had set up on a walkway along Queen's Road Central near steps leading to the upper ground floor. Mr Justice Godfrey Lam Wan-ho said the public path was narrow and pedestrian traffic tended to be busy.
The judge acknowledged the strikers' activities were bound to inconvenience the public, but there was no suggestion that other people could not go about their lawful business because of that.
"In fact, on the evidence, part of the inconvenience complained of by the tenants of the building seems to have stemmed from building management staff's decision to close most of the entrances," Lam wrote in his 29-page judgment. "During the period pending the trial of this matter, this loss [of space within the public open space] is one that the public can reasonably be expected to tolerate."
Cheung Kong firm Turbo Top is seeking a permanent injunction to bar the strikers, including unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, from entering the building and holding protests at adjacent carparks and open spaces.
Lam said the areas occupied by the strikers were co-owned by the plaintiff Turbo Top and the Financial Secretary Incorporated and were open to all members of the public for all lawful purposes freely. Such possession was subject to the rights of the public, and permission to use the area could not be revoked unilaterally by either co-owner, the judge said.
He said whether the defendants' activities were unlawful depended on whether they were obstructing the place without lawful authority or excuse.
Lam extended an interim injunction to bar them from entering Cheung Kong Center, partly because it was private property.
"The plaintiff is entitled … legitimately to fear that some of the protesters, of which the 1st to 5th defendants are members, may try again to gain entry."
The strikers have put up canopies and tents outside the north entrance, two areas along Queen's Road Central and on the upper ground floor. Lee said the ruling justified Hongkongers' right to protest at a public space under private management.
He promised to remove tents next to the lifts by noon today.