Donald Tsang

Hong Kong health official summoned to Donald Tsang’s graft trial over juror’s complaint

The juror, a Department of Health employee, had to work on Saturdays as weekdays were spent on the trial, but judge raises ‘exploitation’ concern

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 2:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 11:59pm

Hong Kong’s director of health apologised on Monday after the judge at former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s corruption trial demanded she explain why a juror employed by the department had to work on Saturdays.

The juror has not been going to the office on weekdays while the trial, which began on September 25, is in session.

Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai told the court earlier that he had written to the juror’s employer, saying that employees should not face prejudice for carrying out a civic duty.

Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee, summoned on short notice to appear in the witness box, apologised for “any inconvenience caused to the court”, but stopped short of promising that the juror would not be burdened with any more work duties before the trial is completed.

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She only said she had touched base with the secretary for the civil service to facilitate a favourable outcome.

The juror, who works for the Department of Health, had complained to the judge about being assigned Saturday shifts at work.

The judge slammed the department’s attitude, saying that it might prompt private businesses to follow, leaving jury members “exploited”. “That’s not good government policy,” Andrew Chan said.

Before the trial of the former chief executive was sidetracked by the matter, the judge had written to the health authority to state his stance. But the department responded in a fax after office hours on Friday, stating that its director, who signed off on the message, had a different view.

In a rare if not unprecedented move, the judge summoned Dr Constance Chan to appear in court.

In her explanation, she said the juror in question was contract-bound to work two Saturdays every month. She also said having looked into civil service regulations and past examples, the department concluded that Saturdays were beyond jury service so the juror could work.

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She added that for cases that were not so clear-cut, it was up to the discretion of the secretary for the civil service.

But the judge hit back: “What if I say he or she is wrong and has no discretion whatsoever?”

Citing the Jury Ordinance, he said it was stipulated that even if a judge were to send the jury home after a long day, the trial was still a “continuing” process.

He also noted there was a provision to deal with discrimination against jurors by employers. Had the government not made an exemption, he said, there would be a case of “HKSAR versus HKSAR”.

He added that since there was a legislation, the law trumped internal rules by the government, which was conceived “on the wrong footing”.

The judge also took issue with the wordings in the fax, in which the department wrote that it “had no objection to release” the juror. “It is not like your department is doing a favour to the court,” he said, stressing that it was a civic duty.

The judge gave the government until Monday next week to conduct legal research and report their findings on the matter.