Judge rules Hong Kong government must pay legal costs for Joshua Wong and two other Occupy activists
Court of Final Appeal backs trio’s application as decision brings an end to controversial case linked to protest that began 79-day occupation of city’s central district
The government must pay the legal costs of three Hong Kong democracy activists, after the trio won a ruling on Friday that brought an end to a controversial case linked to the protest that sparked the Occupy movement in 2014.
Prosecutors had contested the application brought by Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, saying the trio should not be compensated with public funds when the application for review of sentence at the Court of Appeal – that led to their jail terms – was made in the public interest and resulted in the clarification of law on the argued issues.
However, Mr Justice Joseph Fok of the Court of Final Appeal countered: “It seems to us that if the issues were one of public interest, which they clearly were, this is all the more justification for awarding the successful appellants the costs of resisting the sentence review.”
Wong, 21, Law, 24, and Chow, 27, were awarded costs for the review of sentence at the Eastern Court and the Court of Appeal, plus their successful appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, in which they were funded by legal aid.
Wong also won costs for legal advice before receiving legal aid for his application for leave to appeal; while Law and Chow were awarded additional costs to cover their applications to the Court of Appeal last September, despite the fact they were unsuccessful.
The 10-page ruling concluded a controversial saga that began on September 26, 2014 when Wong and Chow stormed the east wing forecourt of the local government headquarters with unnamed others, while Law incited others to follow suit.
The protest sparked the 79-day occupation of key roads by Hongkongers in pursuit of greater democracy.
The three became the first organisers convicted of unlawful assembly and incitement charges after leading the civil disobedience movement.
But they were spared immediate custodial sentences as Magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan of the Eastern Court ordered community service for Wong and Law, and gave Chow a suspended jail sentence in 2016.
Cheung maintained her ruling when prosecutors sought a review of sentence under the Magistrates Ordinance.
But three Court of Appeal judges later unanimously sided with prosecutors and replaced the sentences with jail terms of six to eight months in August last year.
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The punishment prompted Law and Chow to apply for a certificate on points of law for the Court of Final Appeal, before Wong joined them to take the case to the top court.
In February, five Court of Final Appeal judges unanimously quashed the trio’s jail terms but upheld strict sentencing guidelines for future illegal protests – in a judgment Wong described as a “sugar-coated harsh punishment”.