Civic Party membership defended

Political newcomer says affiliation will not lessen part-time judges' impartiality

The Civic Party yesterday defended its membership, which includes part-time judges, saying their political affiliation would not compromise impartiality.

The party membership of around 130 includes High Court Recorder Jacqueline Leong and barrister Thomas Au Hing-cheung, who completed his four-week appointment as a deputy district judge last month.

Ms Leong is one of the most senior barristers in Hong Kong and a former Bar Association chairwoman. She was previously appointed Recorder in 1997 and her current three-year term is due to end in November. But the Judiciary says she is only required to sit in court four weeks each year. Other party members include media commentators, academics and professionals.

The newly formed pro-democracy party, established in March, has declined to reveal the full list of its members on privacy grounds. The disclosure of a list of members by the weekly Eastweek yesterday has fuelled concerns over the impartiality of part-time judges as well as privacy concerns.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a core member of the Civic Party, said both Ms Leong and Mr Au were only part-time judges and there was no conflict of interest.

'I don't think there is any problem because this is a basic human right protected by the Basic Law,' he said.

Fellow party legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said: 'Having senior legal professionals as our members can help monitor our performance.'

When something went wrong in the party, they could speak up and encourage it to do better.

A Judiciary spokeswoman said the guide to judicial conduct states that it would be inappropriate for a judge to take part in an organisation if its aims were political. But the guideline is primarily aimed at full-time judges.

She said there were well-established legal principles as to when judges, whether full-time or part-time, should rule themselves out of standing.

'The test is whether the circumstances are such as would lead a reasonable, fair-minded and well-informed observer to conclude that there is a real possibility that the judge would be biased,' the spokeswoman said.

Mr Au said he saw no problem for him in being both a part-time judge and a party member.

'I am a barrister by trade and being a deputy judge for four weeks is not my main profession.'

Ms Leong was unavailable for comment last night.

Lo Pui-yin, a member of the Bar Association, said although the guideline applied to full-time judges only, whether political party membership led to conflict of interest would depend on the nature of a case before the court.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has about 6,200 members while the Democrats and Liberal Party have about 700 and 800.

The DAB said none of its members were judicial officials. Such information for the other parties was not available last night.

Other prominent members of the Civic Party include: Paul Zimmerman, harbour protection activist; Mark Daly, human rights lawyer; Stephen Vines, newspaper columnist; Lam Yue-yeung, radio host; Benny Tong Yau-tin, honorary secretary of the Hong Kong Chiropractic Doctors' Association; Paul Leung Kin-hang, assistant professor of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Polytechnic University; Rikkie Yeung Au Lai-kit, Synergynet board member; To Yiu-ming, Baptist University journalism professor; and Kwok Nai-wang, a retired Protestant cleric.