Hong Kong justice officials should seek second opinion on move to drop corruption probe against former city leader CY Leung, Bar Association says
- Professional body for barristers expected to issue statement pressing for external advice to ‘dispel any suspicion of possible favouritism’
- They stress move is needed to answer to the public, and appropriate action should not be paralysed by ongoing judicial review
Hong Kong’s justice department should review its decision to drop a high-profile corruption probe against former leader Leung Chun-ying by seeking a second opinion, the city’s professional body for barristers said on Friday.
In a statement, the Bar Association challenged the Department of Justice (DOJ) for edeparting from past convention by not seeking independent legal advice before clearing Leung, adding to pressure from legal scholars and pro-democracy lawmakers.
The departure from “well-recognised” convention of first seeking legal advice, according to the vocal barrister’s body, has cast “justifiable doubt” on Leung’s case, and whether the prosecution decision was free from any bias or political considerations.
In particular, the association took issue with Leung’s role as the vice-chairman of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“Any doubt as to the process by which the DOJ reached the decision not to prosecute will inevitably erode confidence in the criminal justice system and the rule of law.”
The department last Wednesday cleared Leung of corruption in a case centred on his receipt of HK$50 million from Australian engineering conglomerate UGL between 2012 and 2013, when he was serving as the city’s top official.
In the department’s brief statement, it gave no details of the legal principle behind the decision. The department did not explain why UGL’s payment to Leung did not contribute to a conflict of interest.
Association chairman Philip Dykes said public concern over Leung’s case showed the department should have got external advice, “to dispel any suspicion of possible favouritism”. Experts had argued a second opinion was needed on politically sensitive cases or those involving former officials.
“The Bar Council noted the apparent break from precedents and there has been no explanation for this,” Dykes said after a meeting among the body’s governing members on Thursday.
Association vice-chairman Robert Pang Yiu-hung added that they were not challenging the prosecutorial decision itself, but were concerned about the lack of independent legal advice.
More explanation on the legal reasoning behind the move, according to Pang, could also address public concerns.
While stressing it respected the DOJ’s role and duty in bringing criminal prosecution, the Bar also said in its statement that the prosecution decision must be “fully seen by the public to be made independently, free from any interference or influence”.
It urged the DOJ to seek the advice of an independent lawyer and review Leung’s case, to allay public concerns on the prosecution process.
On Tuesday, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Hong Kong’s graft-buster, said it had “left no stone unturned” in its four-year investigation, which it said was conducted in an impartial manner.
The department previously said the need for legal advice hinged on whether it already had internal expertise, and if there were possible perceptions of bias or conflict of interest. It added that it had taken all relevant considerations into account.
Meanwhile, a judicial review over the case was earlier filed by activist Kwok Cheuk-kin against top prosecutor David Leung Cheuk-yin. High Court judge Anderson Chow Ka-ming later ordered that Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah be added to the respondents’ list.
Although the department said it was not appropriate to comment further given the legal challenge, Dykes said Cheng could choose how much to disclose.
“The filing of any kind of application should not [paralyse appropriate action]. You can’t let that get in the way of giving an explanation,” he said.
The Post was told that the Bar Association’s statement would cite the example of former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie not seeking independent legal advice on the case of media tycoon Sally Aw Sian in 1999.
It was not the first time that the Bar Association had publicly called for a second opinion on a decision to not prosecute. Former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie controversially decided not to seeking independent legal advice on the case of media tycoon Sally Aw Sian in 1999.
It was revealed 15 years later that Elsie Leung had overturned the decision of colleagues and decided not to press charges against the then chairwoman of Sing Tao Holdings for falsely inflating circulation figures of the newspaper under the group.