Hong Kong ‘king of judicial reviews’ to quit city and legal battles after HK$40 million in fees and just one win
Last challenge likely to carry on two more years for retiree who has filed more than 30 since 2006
After losing all but one of more than 30 legal challenges against policies he thought unfair and having incurred HK$40 million in fees, Hong Kong’s “king of judicial reviews” has decided to call it a day.
But Kwok Cheuk-kin, 78, said it was more his disappointment in Hong Kong’s judicial system and government than his repeated failures and debts that had made him decide to emigrate to Britain after his final campaign ends, likely in two years’ time.
“I’ll stay for the legal fight against the small-house policy,” he said. “It will be my last battle.”
Since 2006, Kwok has filed more than 30 judicial reviews against government policies and decisions that he found unjust. He won only once: a case involving a public area in Cheung Chau, where he lives, that was being used as a temporary funeral parlour.
The retiree claimed that losing so many cases did not mean “total failure” because people learned through legal proceedings “what the government had done wrong”.
Kwok, formerly a government clerk and law firm employee, said he owed a total of about HK$40 million in legal costs to the government and now relied on some HK$3,000 per month in elderly allowance.
He revealed he could not repay the debt and that “in the worst case scenario” he would declare bankruptcy.
Under the proposed arrangement endorsed by the Executive Council, part of the West Kowloon terminus for the express rail to Guangzhou would authorise mainland immigration and customs officers to exercise their jurisdiction. Kwok said the plan contravened the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
But the High Court dismissed his application on the grounds that the challenge was premature, as Exco’s decision was only one of the few steps needed to implement the plan, which will be subject to Beijing’s approval and then local legislation.
Kwok accused the court of “moving the goalposts” in handling his challenge.
“The judge rejected my application for leave, saying the proposal was non-binding so there was no sufficient grounds to grant a judicial review,” he said. “But the judge could also say the court has no right to review the arrangement after it’s approved by Beijing.”
Kwok added he was frustrated by a government approach he described as high-handed, noting how it hired top-notch barristers in a separate recent case while he only relied on legal aid until four months ago, when all his resources were exhausted.
The Legal Aid Department told the retiree he would be barred from qualifying for help for three years. It said he abused legal procedures.
But Kwok disagreed with that characterisation.
Reflecting on his experiences, the Cheung Chau native said: “People should not remain silent on mistakes and injustice. If I didn’t speak up, who should I have expected to do it for us?”
However, Kwok warned young Hongkongers to think twice before following his example.
“Young people have to think about their families and their future because challenging the government could make them vulnerable and risk losing everything they’ve got.”
The causes Kwok championed ranged from fighting ferry fare rises to challenging the legality of oaths taken by the former and current chief executives as well as some lawmakers’ qualifications.
His last battle centres on the city’s small-house policy and pits him against rural power broker Heung Yee Kuk, a body that looks after the interests of indigenous New Territories residents. The policy allows male, adult indigenous villagers to build and sell three-storey houses within a recognised New Territories village or on agricultural land.
Kwok has argued that such a right was not in fact traditional because the policy has applied to temporary housing for only 45 years. He also claimed the policy discriminates against women and appropriates large plots of land that would otherwise be used to develop public housing.
No matter the outcome of his final challenge, the retiree said he would be leaving Hong Kong.
“When the gavel comes down on this case I will be heading to the United Kingdom, joining a friend who is doing business there.”