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Hong Kong courts

Ousted Hong Kong lawmaker Edward Yiu avoids having to pay legal bill of almost HK$1 million

Judge alters earlier ruling on oath-taking saga, saying that since the former opposition politician was safeguarding those who voted for him, it would be reasonable for him to resist having to foot hefty legal fee

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 10:59pm

A Hong Kong court on Thursday spared an ousted lawmaker from having to pay a legal bill expected to amount to almost HK$1 million (US$128,000) that the government had spent to unseat him last year.

In an unexpected footnote to the government’s successful bids against six opposition lawmakers, one of them, Edward Yiu Chung-yim, prevailed on Thursday for the first time.

A scholar-turned-politician, Yiu was previously ordered by the High Court to pay part of an estimated HK$3 million (US$383,000) legal bill incurred during the disqualifying challenge the government brought to unseat four of the six lawmakers in 2017.

But on Thursday, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung altered his earlier ruling, saying Yiu no longer had to pay the sum.

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While the loser usually pays winner’s legal costs, Au said it was reasonable for Yiu to think that he would have grounds to resist the government’s request to have him disqualified.

The judge also said in defending his seat, Yiu was safeguarding those who voted for him and therefore there was public interest involved.

“I agree that it would not be fair and just in all the circumstances to require him to bear the costs of these actions,” the judge wrote.

Yiu was disqualified by Au on July 14 last year alongside Lau Siu-lai, also a scholar, student activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung and veteran legislator “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung over their invalid oaths.

Before them, two pro-independence lawmakers, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, were also unseated in a separate legal bid which prompted Beijing to set down the rules on oath-taking by issuing a far-reaching interpretation of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

The unseating applications were lodged by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his then secretary for justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.

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When asked to rule on the application last year, Au found Yiu and the three others had failed to take their oath solemnly, sincerely and in their entirety – as required by court precedents and Beijing’s interpretation.

Yiu, when taking his oath on October 12, 2016, inserted an extra sentence: “I will uphold procedural ­justice in Hong Kong, fight for genuine universal suffrage and serve the city’s sustainable development.”

In the judgment on Thursday, Au said while Yiu should be disqualified for the addition, he described the extra words as “relatively milder” than other defiant oath-taking antics before 2016.

He said in those even more extreme instances, lawmakers were given a chance to retake their oath. Yiu was also given a second chance by the president at the time, even though it was later found to be wrong by the court.

“It was reasonably understandable in those circumstances why Mr Yiu was led to mistakenly believe that, at the least, he should be allowed a second chance to retake the Legco oath under the law,” the judge said.

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Yiu was the first to challenge being ordered to pay the legal costs over the issue. Two other ousted lawmakers, Law and Lau, have not filed similar applications, while Leung’s appeal against his disqualification was still ongoing.

Law told the Post that he would discuss submitting a similar application with his legal team.

Sources in the pro-democracy camp said the legal costs of fighting the disqualifying challenges would be paid by the Justice Defence Fund, a fundraising campaign launched in 2016.

Since his removal, Yiu ran again in the Legco by-election in the Kowloon West constituency earlier this year, but lost to the pro-establishment camp’s Vincent Cheng Wing-shun.

Law’s Hong Kong Island seat was filled by Au Lok-hin, from the Democratic Party, after the government refused to let Law’s comrade-in-arms, Agnes Chow Ting, from their group Demosisto, to run because the party promoted “self-determination”.

Lau will run in the Kowloon West by-election in the November 25 poll against independent candidates Chan Hoi-yan and Frederick Fung Kin-kee, a veteran lawmaker.