Coroner's jury decision 'should be quashed'

THE High Court has been asked to quash a jury's verdict of unlawful killing on grounds that the coroner's direction was flawed because he modelled it on an old version of a criminal law book.

Mr Robert Tang QC, leading Mr Alan Leong, submitted that the direction the coroner gave had been held to be wrong by the Privy Council in the latest version of the law book, Archbold.

Mr Justice Mayo, who reserved his judgement, remarked that he hoped it was not because the judiciary did not have money to buy the newest edition of Archbold.

The coroner's jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing last August in the death of five men from burns in an explosion aboard a dredging vessel at Hunghom pier on November 1, 1991.

The incident occurred when a six-man team led by a supervisor tried to start a diesel engine aboard dredging vessel Kyowa Go No 3. The explosion was ignited when compressed oxygen instead of compressed air was used to start the engine.

It was heard that it was dangerous to start a diesel engine with oxygen as the gas was incompatible with hydrocarbons found in the engine.

The lawyers for team supervisor Mr Wong Kui-wai are seeking to quash the verdict on grounds Mr Wong could not be found to have been reckless.

Summing up the evidence to the jury, Coroner Mr Warner Banks had directed the jury on recklessness in accordance with the old version of Archbold which was found to be wrong by the Privy Council in the latest version.

Mr Tang submitted that the direction by the coroner was fundamentally bad and the verdict must be quashed.

The court heard that after the direction, the jury asked a question with the words, ''we know Wong did not know [of any] danger''. Knowledge of danger was essential to recklessness, counsel submitted.

Mr Tang said the coroner never told the jury to ignore his previous direction and to act on new direction.

Senior Crown Counsel Mr Kwok Sui-hay contended that the coroner gave the correct direction to the jury.

The five dead men were Mr Lai Shu-wing, 42, a senior crane operator; Mr Kwan Pak-kan, 45, a coxswain; Mr Fok Kam-kuen, 36, a crane operator; Mr Mak Sui-hong, 38, and Mr Tam Chung-po, 29, both electricians.