The judge presiding over the city's most high-profile corruption case "reluctantly" discharged the jury barely an hour into the hearing yesterday.
The collapse of the nine-strong jury, which had been sworn in on Monday, was prompted by the exit of a juror who complained of illness.
This resulted in the adjournment until Wednesday of the High Court case alleging former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan took HK$34 million in bribes from the heads of Sun Hung Kai Properties and others.
The juror, backed by a letter from a doctor at Baptist Hospital, told Mr Justice Andrew Macrae that he still experienced pain almost three months after having a hernia operation. He said that the pain came back as he returned to running his one-man business after a morning in court on Monday. The next day he did not turn up at court.
|What the law says:|
The law relating to the discharging of jurors is found in the Jury Ordinance. Section 25 provides that a court may at any time discharge a juror if it considers this to be in the interests of justice or the interests of the juror.
Section 24 permits a nine member jury to be reduced to eight, seven, six, or five members in this way. If the jury has the full nine members, at least seven of them must agree on the verdict.
No less than six jurors must agree on the verdict if the jury is reduced to eight members. Should the jury have less than eight members, at least five of them must agree on a verdict.
The smallest jury possible under the Ordinance is one of five members. In such a case, they must all agree on the verdict.
The juror said that if he stayed in the trial, he would have to compress his usual daily work into just a few hours after the hearing ended in the late afternoon.
Macrae was initially unconvinced, saying he himself had returned to the bench after undergoing similar medical treatment a few years ago. "While you are sitting there listening to the case, [your recovery is] not running any risk," the judge said.
The judge also said he had the power to double the jury allowance and requested the man to consider changing his work pattern. The juror replied: "Can you tell me how to change [it]?"
Macrae eventually allowed the juror to stand down. "I am reluctantly persuaded that I will have to exempt you … because of the combination of [your injury and work]," he said.
He then discharged all the eight remaining jurors in response to requests by the prosecution - which did not even have time to make its opening remarks - and defence counsel.
They had argued that the political significance of the case was so great as to necessitate a full jury's verdict to convince the public. There was also concern that if the trial began without a full jury, more members might drop out in the course of hearings that could run to October.
"Thank you for your patience," Macrae told the short-lived jurors. "Your services will no longer be required."
The judge then turned to one of them, who had planned a trip overseas. "You can now go to Korea," he said. After learning that Jin Air, the carrier the woman had booked with, charged her a penalty of HK$642 for cancelling her trip, he joked: "The company is well-named; it is so 'jin'," - in an apparent reference to the Cantonese word for "cheap".
Hui, 66, faces eight charges related to bribery and misconduct in public office.
SHKP co-chairman Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, 62, faces one charge of conspiracy to offer an advantage to Hui and two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, 61, also co-chairman, faces four charges, including one count of furnishing false information with Hui.
SHKP executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang each face two charges. All plead not guilty.