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Hong Kong courts

Hong Kong serial litigant Kwok Cheuk-kin undeterred after funding blocked for his judicial review of city’s rural small-house policy

  • Kwok Cheuk-kin, known as the ‘king of judicial reviews’, vows to stick to his guns regardless of the cost of his latest court challenge
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 4:52am

A former Hong Kong civil servant on Tuesday failed to secure public money for a judicial challenge against the government’s policy of allowing indigenous villagers to build homes in the land-starved city.

Kwok Cheuk-kin’s challenge suffered a setback after High Court judge Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled another court had been correct to find that Kwok had wilfully failed to declare at least HK$148,400 (US$18,920) in assets when he sought assistance from the Legal Aid Department.

A defiant Kwok – known as the “king of judicial reviews” over his reputation for challenging the government in court – said he was undeterred and vowed to stick to his guns regardless of the cost.

“I’ll continue to fight it … It doesn’t matter if it is going to cost HK$100 million or HK$200 million,” Kwok said outside court.

In 2015, he filed a judicial review against the Home Affairs Bureau and Lands Department over what is known as the small-house policy.

Enacted in 1972, while Hong Kong was still under British rule, as a temporary housing measure, the policy allows male, adult indigenous villagers to build a three-storey house within a recognised New Territories village or on agricultural land.

The policy has been subjected to a flurry of criticism that claims it is prone to abuse and is unfair in a city where scarce land supply has caused property prices to skyrocket.

Serial Hong Kong litigant who failed to declare new bank account and HK$60,000 in cash challenges decision to revoke legal aid

Kwok was originally granted legal aid, but it was revoked by another judge at the High Court after an appeal by the Legal Aid Department. He then filed another judicial review, targeting the decision of the department and the judge.

Those who possess less than HK$302,000 are entitled to financial assistance from the department.

But it was found that Kwok had between HK$50,000 and HK$60,000 at his Cheung Chau home which he had not declared, along with HK$98,400 in his Bank of China account.

Kwok said he thought as long as his assets did not exceed HK$302,000, he did not need to make a declaration. He initially said the money came from odd jobs such as washing dishes and collecting cardboard, but later disclosed it came from gambling on horses.

On Tuesday, Au ruled that the lower court which had approved the department’s request to revoke the funding had used the right approach in deciding whether Kwok was wilful when he failed to make his declaration.

He said the judge had been entitled to find Kwok not credible and his decision was not based on a mistaken belief, having assessed the evidence properly.

Au said Kwok’s claims were “not reasonably arguable with a realistic prospect of success”. He ordered Kwok to pay the legal costs incurred by the department.

Kwok said he would still engage barrister Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, a founding member of the city’s Democratic Party, as well as a legal team, to fight on in the judicial review against the policy, which is scheduled to begin on December 3.