It is hardly surprising that a court’s decision to clear three people of rioting during the social unrest last year has been greeted with mixed reactions. As with the Occupy protests in 2014 and other politically divisive cases, the rulings will not please everyone. What matters is that the cases are handled according to well-established legal principles and that justice is done through the judicial process without fear or favour. In the latest case, the judge said there was no evidence that the defendants had assembled in common purpose with protesters in Sheung Wan, where the demonstration eventually turned into a riot on July 28. The case put forward by the prosecution, he said, was based on circumstantial evidence, such as the defendants’ black clothing, protective gear, and attempts to flee from police. But two of them were separately found guilty of possessing radio communications – a pair of walkie-talkies – without a licence and fined HK$10,000 (US$1,300) each. There are those who have long formed their own judgment on the unrest and those arrested by the police for various reasons. The emphasis on well-established common law principles, including the presumption of innocence and evidence beyond reasonable doubt for conviction, may therefore sound unacceptable to some. But a core principle of Hong Kong’s legal system is that defendants cannot be convicted of criminal offences unless the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Concerning the Sheung Wan incident, the accused were acquitted of rioting simply because of insufficient evidence. The judge added that his ruling might not necessarily reflect whether the trio actually took part in a riot or an unlawful assembly, saying it was only based on the evidence presented in court and the relevant common law principles. Man accused of pushing police during protest acquitted over weak evidence Earlier, a 22-year-old was sentenced to four years in jail after he pleaded guilty to a charge of rioting, while a 19-year-old student was cleared of the offence because the court found police evidence unreliable. With some 1,900 cases of rioting and other offences still pending, the process will take time. But the principle is the same. No matter what the charge or the sensitivity of the case, the courts must continue to fairly weigh the evidence and to decide whether the prosecution has produced sufficient evidence to prove its allegations.