Hong Kong Bar Association, Law Society condemn online trolls targeting judge who sentenced Edward Leung for Mong Kok riot
Legal groups denounce insults against Justice Anthea Pang, saying ‘personal attacks on judges have no place in rational discourse’
The city’s two professional legal bodies on Wednesday condemned a series of personal attacks against a judge who sent three localists to prison over the 2016 Mong Kok riot, warning the insults would “erode public confidence in the judiciary and the due process of law”.
In a rare joint statement from the Law Society and Bar Association, the groups issued a stern warning against “recent unjustified, derogatory and personal attacks” against High Court judge Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam.
“Disparaging and abusive comments against the judge and her family, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the correctness of the judgment or the appropriateness of the sentence, serve no useful purpose but divert attention away from the real issues which should be addressed in any public discourse,” said the statement from the Law Society and Bar Association, which represent the city’s solicitors and barristers, respectively.
The groups stressed that while they supported free speech and the right to criticise judicial decisions, they urged public to express their disapproval in a rational manner, adding personal insults were “entirely unacceptable”.
“Personal attacks on judges have no place in rational discourse and debate that is a hallmark of a civil society.”
Pang presided over the trial of four localists who were accused of inciting the riot in Mong Kok in 2016, which was one of the city’s worst outbreaks of civil unrest in recent years. A jury found Edward Leung Tin-kei, 26, and Lo Kin-man, 31, guilty of rioting in M ay. Last month, Pang sentenced Leung, widely regarded as the face of Hong Kong’s marginalised independence movement, to six years in prison while Lo was given a seven-year sentence, the harshest sentence for rioting since it was written into Hong Kong law in 1970. The charge carried a maximum sentence of 10 years.
A third defendant Wong Ka-kui, 27, admitted to one count of rioting and was jailed for jailed for 3½ years.
Almost immediately after the three were sentenced, Pang become the target of critics online who attacked her character and said her objectivity was compromised because she is the widow of a police officer who died in the line of duty.
The Department of Justice has said it referred online attacks against Pang to law enforcement agencies. It also warned that personal or scandalous attacks on judges could be held to contempt of court and are “absolutely forbidden”.
Hong Kong’s courts have seen more politically charged cases, particularly between protesters and police after the Occupy Central movement in 2014.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li has stressed the court and judges are only concerned about the law and legal principles when adjudicating cases.
Speaking at the admission of senior counsel last month, Ma warned that some members of public “lose sight” of fact that the courts only adjudicate according to the letter of the law. He said this happens especially during cases that stemmed from controversial political, economic or social events.