Spouse law archaic: judge

A judge yesterday called for an 'archaic' law that bars a husband or wife giving evidence against their spouse unless under exceptional circumstances to be scrapped.

District Court Judge Fergal Sweeney last week acquitted police constable Jacob Kwok Keung, 31, and transport worker Ho Tin-on, 33, of arranging a sham marriage between Filipina Melba Valera, 30, and Chan Hor-pui.

Ms Valera, initially a co-defendant of Mr Kwok and Mr Ho, was also cleared after defence lawyer Joseph Tse successfully argued Mr Chan could not, under common law, give evidence against her.

A law preventing a spouse testifying against his or her partner was repealed in Britain in 1984. But such a law, which Judge Sweeney yesterday called 'archaic', still exists in Hong Kong.

'It is time the Department of Justice looked at this area of law for legislative change,' Judge Sweeney said.

The defence prevented Mr Chan, under prosecution immunity, from testifying that he agreed to marry Ms Valera for $30,000 so she could stay in the SAR.

Prosecutor Lily Yew had agreed to continue the prosecution against Mr Kwok and Mr Ho on another fraud offence, which allegedly took place between August and December 1997.

The pair had denied the charge and were acquitted of it yesterday.

The prosecution said Mr Kwok and Mr Ho prepared bogus documents, including an employment letter for jobless Mr Chan, which he and Ms Velera submitted to immigration officers in support of her application for a dependant's visa.

Judge Sweeney said he could not convict Mr Kwok and Mr Ho despite his belief that the marriage on October 24, 1997, was a sham.

'Mr Chan was not just a suspect witness but a poor witness. I find it hard to believe that [Mr Kwok and Mr Ho] would go to so much effort to change one Filipino woman's visa status,' he said.

'There is more to the case than meets the eye and I believe the court hasn't been told the full story. There is lurking doubt in the prosecution case and I must give the defendants the benefit of the doubt.' It was not made clear how Kwok or Ho might have benefited from their alleged offences.