My Take

Carrie Lam can thank Hong Kong justice chief for taking flak

Rimsky Yuen attracted the anger of National Day protesters for an off-the-cuff remark and controversial legal decisions, saving the chief executive from critics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 3:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 3:51am

Every chief executive should have a Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung to help draw flak away from them. The justice secretary was the main target of the mass rally on National Day, a long-standing anti-government protest which usually takes aim at the city’s leader.

In the past, chants urged former chief executive Leung Chun-ying to resign. This time, though, it was “down with Yuen Kwok-keung”, rather than Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, successor to Leung.

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Whether by luck or skill, Lam has mostly avoided being drawn into recent political rows while Yuen is in the thick of it all. Some of his prosecutorial decisions were unavoidable, but in at least one case a wound was self-inflicted.

That was his ill-considered comment on the alleged threat made by former Law Society president and lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu to kill independence advocates “without mercy”.

Yuen made an off-the-cuff remark that sounded like he was defending Ho when all he had to say was that he had no first-hand information about the incident and could not comment. This would also have the virtue of being true.

It got worse in subsequent days as public figures from Executive Council members Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee to Lam herself started criticising Ho.

However, other legal decisions Yuen or his prosecutors made were unavoidably controversial. They all turned out to be related to the biggest political rows of the moment. These included: the jailing of 13 people protesting against a government development project in the northeastern New Territories; the successful appeal to jail three prominent student leaders; joint immigration and customs facilities at the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus; and the prosecution of the so-called three gentlemen of Occupy Central, including University of Hong Kong law lecturer Benny Tai Yiu-ting.

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Whether you agree or not with those justice department decisions, the buck stops with Yuen, rather than Lam. Interestingly, Tai was photographed at the rally holding a banner calling on Yuen to resign and condemning what he called “political prosecution” when he was one of those facing prosecution.

Fair or not, Yuen has become the most hated official du jour. Lam’s political honeymoon may be over, but at least she has not been dragged back into the trenches for now.