Hong Kong courts

Don’t turn prosecution into persecution, head of Hong Kong barrister body warns

Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes urges care and caution from city’s prosecutors following controversy over recent court rulings against activists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 6:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 6:48am

The head of Hong Kong’s professional regulatory body for barristers warned the government on Friday not to turn “prosecution” into “persecution”, even as the city’s justice minister said public violence and “rioting” showed a pressing need to educate people on the consequences of flouting the law.

Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes and Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah were both speaking at a ceremony to mark the start of the “Prosecution Week” of activities to publicise the city’s criminal justice system.

Dykes, addressing an audience of mostly prosecutors, said their job was not to exhaust “all the considerable resources of the state to secure a conviction just because they can do so”.

“This is because the prosecution duty is to seek justice and not merely to secure a conviction,” the prominent human rights lawyer said.

Care and caution were required “so the prosecution does not become in the public eye a persecution”, he added.

But the justice minister said prosecutors were constitutionally and legally required to make fair and impartial decisions “without fear or favour”, and no one was above the law.

“It is not the aim of the prosecution to secure convictions at all costs, nor is the conviction rate a performance indicator for the prosecutor,” Cheng said.

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She called for greater public understanding of the city’s criminal justice system.

“In view of the recent rise in cases involving violence in public processions and the like, some of which turned into riots, it is right that this department should be doing more to better inform the public about the nature of criminal law, the legal system and indeed the legal consequences if the law is breached,” Cheng said.

The debate comes at a challenging time for prosecutors due to public criticism over a series of politically sensitive cases in a polarised city. Recent court rulings against young activists over their roles in the Mong Kok riot of 2016, and the 2014 Occupy protests, have been criticised by pro-democracy forces as too severe and politically motivated.

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Prosecutors’ efforts to penalise student activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang over the Occupy protests have been particularly controversial.

On the other side of the fence, pro-establishment forces have also been highly critical of the Department of Justice over the 2015 prosecution of seven policemen accused of assaulting Occupy protester Ken Tsang Kin-chiu.

They have also protested against the prosecution of retired police superintendent Frankly Chu, who was found guilty last year of striking a passer-by with a police baton during a post-Occupy crowd-control operation.

Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin on Friday stressed that prosecutors must act in accordance with the law and they would not be influenced by irrelevant considerations.

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“In particular, political or individual interests are of no concern for any prosecutor. All prosecutorial decisions are made on the highest professional standard considering only the law, the evidence and the public interest,” he said.

Leung has personally led several high-profile cases, including his department’s appeal against a lenient community service sentence for Joshua Wong for unlawful assembly during the Occupy protests. Wong was later freed from jail by the city’s top court, which also issued tougher sentencing guidelines for such offences.

The justice minister left Friday’s event without answering questions from the media.