Politician Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung was yesterday banned from the roads for six months and fined HK$8,000 after being convicted of dangerous driving while heading to a controversial music event in Kai Tak.
But Magistrate Don So Man-lung said he accepted that Lam, 61, had crossed double-white lines, drove on the wrong side of the road for 15 to 17 metres and ran a red light out of carelessness, and as such he saw no need to jail him. Lam had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving, having earlier admitted to the less serious charge of reckless driving.
The conviction will not affect Lam's membership of the Executive Council, his role as a lawmaker or his duties with the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee.
"The defendant did not commit the offence on purpose, but was continuously negligent," So told Kwun Tong Court as he delivered his verdict yesterday.
"The defendant had acted in a way that was contrary to that of a competent and careful driver. A competent driver would read the signs carefully first."
As well as suspending his licence for six months and fining him, So ordered Lam to complete a driving improvement course.
Lam's trial on January 6 heard that the Business and Professionals Alliance member drove in the wrong lane at the junction of Wang Chiu Road and Cheung Yip Street in Kowloon Bay.
He was attending the Dome Festival, a cut-price music event on the former airport site organised by government-friendly business groups to coincide with the July 1 pro-democracy march.
So said the court had noted that typhoon signal No3 was in effect and the roads were slippery, but bad weather was no excuse for failing to take into account road markings and signs.
"Such road conditions would be encountered by any driver, unless a law is passed to forbid people from driving if there is a typhoon 3 signal," he said.
So also discounted Lam's claim at the trial that he had been pointed in the wrong direction by a stranger in a raincoat, whom he took to be a police officer.
Alliance chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said the case would not affect Lam's service on Exco or the Legislative Council.
"Even the minister has had a similar case," Leung said, referring to development chief Paul Chan Mo-po's recent guilty plea in a careless-driving case.
The Basic Law only allows Legco to expel a member who is jailed for at least one month - and even then, a two-thirds majority is required. Exco has no rules for members' criminal convictions.
Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam and Tanna Chong