Hong Kong government backs down over demand for juror to come to work amid Donald Tsang trial
Lawyer tells court the administration recognises the importance of jury service after conflict erupts on side of former leader’s bribery trial
A lawyer for the Hong Kong government has said the administration recognises the importance of jury service, after the director of health services was targeted by a judge for requiring an employee to work weekends while serving as a juror.
Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee was grilled by a court last week over a request to a Department of Health employee that the juror put in extra hours at the weekend in between taking time out for the civic duty.
But on Monday lawyers made a U-turn, saying the government recognised the value of jury service and would not ask employees to work while serving.
The issue escalated last week into a side drama at the bribery trial of former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, which is set to close as soon as next Thursday after Tsang opted on Monday not to give evidence or call witnesses.
The jury saga sprung up after one of the jurors informed the presiding judge of a requirement to work on Saturdays, despite a clear indication from the judge to the department that she was not obliged to.
This resulted in a rare courtroom occurrence in which the director was summoned before the judge to explain. Chan told the court she would try to help but stopped short of pledging to release the employee.
However, on Monday, barrister Jin Pao, for the government, told the court the administration in fact agreed with Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai’s view that the jury should be free from work burdens until the moment they were discharged, as enshrined in the city’s Jury Ordinance.
“The government has recognised the importance of jury service,” the barrister said, adding that it was “committed to the administration of justice”.
He said the juror in question would not face a deduction in leave despite being contractually required to work every other Saturday.
He or she would also get their monthly wages in full while being allowed to retain the HK$830 per day jurors are given, the barrister said.
The judge said he had felt compelled to delve into the matter after the department shunned his views expressed in a letter he sent.
Mr Justice Chan handed down an order telling jurors they had “no obligation” to work, even before he had heard from the government in the hearing on Monday.
He urged the government to make the message clear for companies operating in the city, saying: “There are lot of small employers in Hong Kong. They don’t have the benefit of legal advice.”
Pao said the Department of Justice had written to the court on behalf of the government on October 19, two days after the judge’s letter, saying it would fully abide by and comply with the order, and would not require the juror in question to work.
He agreed that a jury would only be discharged when told by the court, and said that courts in future could issue expressed orders to make sure the message was heard by employers.
Exceptions could be possible if there were long breaks in a trial and flexible arrangements were needed, the barrister said. Any failure to comply would result in contempt.
A spokesman for the Civil Service Bureau said current regulations governing civil servants already stated that jury service not be counted as leave.
“The government will follow any order of the court,” he said.