Few instances of Hongkongers facing courts have drawn as much local and international attention as that of the 12 fugitives from justice intercepted in waters last August as they tried to flee to Taiwan. The volume of criticism from sympathisers of their detention over an illegal border crossing and defence from government officials of their refusal to intervene attest to that. It was therefore to be expected that the sentences handed down in the Yantian District People’s Court would be seen as harsh, or lenient, from one side or the other. If this means the court may have got it about right, it is arguably not a bad outcome. That may not be said of the lack of transparency in the legal process, with relatives claiming they were denied entry to the hearing, along with non-mainland media and diplomats. Ten Hong Kong fugitives jailed up to three years by mainland Chinese court The 12 jumped bail in Hong Kong. All but one faced charges in connection with last year’s social unrest. Mainland police handed two teenagers among them to officers in Hong Kong for further action. The court jailed two organisers for three and two years and fined them 20,000 yuan (US$3,060) and 15,000 yuan, and sentenced the remaining eight to seven months and fined them 10,000 yuan. The maximum sentences are seven years and one year respectively. Sympathisers claim punishment of illegal border crossings is not consistent and cite this as reason for concern that the sentences in this case were targeted at deterring political activities in Hong Kong. But anyone breaching the law should bear the consequences. The 12 not only jumped bail but broke law in an attempt to make good their escape. The case was bound to attract international attention, given the connection with civil unrest in Hong Kong. Such criticism, especially from the United States, may not have helped the fugitives’ cause since China, like other jurisdictions with different legal systems, insists that its judiciary should be free of any influence or pressure. However, the case does underline the need for the to improve its court and legal system. The lack of transparency does nothing to uphold a principle fundamental to confidence in the system – that justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done, including respect for the legitimate rights of the accused under law.