Senior barrister involved in Occupy trials named Hong Kong’s new prosecutions chief
David Leung Cheuk-yin SC has acted for the city’s government in other high-profile cases, including prosecuting Uber drivers
A senior barrister who acted for the Hong Kong government in several recent high-profile cases, including securing jail sentences for three student activists involved in the 2014 Occupy civil disobedience movement, was on Friday named the city’s new prosecutions chief.
David Leung Cheuk-yin SC has been the deputy director of public prosecutions for the last five years.
He succeeds Keith Yeung Kar-hung SC, who stepped down in September after his contract ended.
A government statement said Leung, 51, was selected through a hiring process that involved open recruitment and the consideration of existing staff members for promotion.
Earlier this year, Leung, representing the city’s Department of Justice, asked an appeal court to jail Joshua Wong Chi-fung, secretary general of political party Demosisto, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a disqualified legislator of the same party, and former student union chief Alex Chow Yong-kang.
He attacked a lower court’s decision to give Wong and Law a community service sentence and Chow a suspended jail term for their role in clashes with security and police officers at Civic Square, a popular protest site outside the government headquarters.
The incident on the night of September 26, 2014, became the prelude to 79 days of pro-democracy protests in the city.
The magistrate’s decision to adopt a more understanding approach in sentencing young offenders was “rather dangerous” and sent the wrong message, Leung said.
Leung, who has 25 years of legal experience, was also among a team of government lawyers who successfully prosecuted five Uber drivers for driving without a permit or third-party insurance, in Hong Kong’s first trial on the car-hailing service that taxi groups in the city desperately want to shut down.
His other cases include a trial of seven policemen accused of maliciously assaulting an activist, the sentencing review of 13 activists who stormed the Legislative Council in 2014 in their protest against the government’s development of the northeast New Territories, and an ongoing trial of 11 men and women accused of taking part in last year’s Mong Kok riot.
Leung was also tasked to handle the prosecutions department’s decisions on legal scholar and Occupy leader Benny Tai Yiu-ting, after Yeung and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung excused themselves, as they had been schoolmates with Tai at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) law school.
In Leung’s new role, he will direct public prosecutions and advise on the development, enforcement and implementation of criminal law in the city.
A HKU law school alumnus, Leung was admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong in 1992 and joined the Department of Justice in 1995 as a crown counsel. He was called to the Bar in 1998.
He spent almost all his career in the prosecutions division and was named deputy director of public prosecutions in 2012, with an additional title of principal government counsel given to him in December 2013. He took silk – became a senior counsel – in 2015.
He is the second Chinese to assume the post after his predecessor Yeung.
As Leung’s wife is a senior government counsel in the prosecutions department, it issued a statement on Friday that said: “[Leung] will avoid any possible conflict of interest and any perception of such conflict in respect of prosecution cases handled by his spouse, and will not deal with any administrative or personnel matters concerning his spouse.”
Yuen, who once described Leung as “the in-house expert on the law relating to public order events … and cost matters”, welcomed the appointment on Friday.
“Mr Leung is an outstanding senior counsel,” the outgoing justice secretary, who will leave his post next month, said in a statement.
“I have every confidence that he will lead the prosecutions division ably to meet the challenges ahead and discharge his role as the director of public prosecutions in a fair and just manner.”
Former Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit, who currently chairs the pro-democracy Civic Party, urged Leung to “exercise his power without fear or favour” as his actions would reflect the rule of law in the city.
“I hope that he will … approach each and every case as the law requires him to do so,” he said.
He urged Leung to consider discussing with incoming justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah a proposal for the city’s prosecutions chief to make decisions on sensitive criminal cases, instead of leaving those tasks to the justice minister, who is a political appointee.
The suggestion was made by legal sector legislator Dennis Kwok in the wake of jail sentences given to the three young activists, which critics decried as politically motivated.
Stephen Hung Wan-shun, a criminal lawyer and former president of the Law Society, said he previously faced Leung in court cases and remembered him as a “competent and fair prosecutor”.
Leung’s predecessor Yeung was “devoted to his job and was easy for the legal sector to communicate with” on matters of criminal law, Hung said.
He added: “I believe that Leung will carry on [with Yeung’s style], and I hope that we can continue our dialogue.”
Pro-establishment lawmaker and lawyer Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan said: “[Leung] is a very good counsel and was appointed through an open and fair selection process. [I hope] that he will continue to stand for the rule of law and safeguard the impartiality and professionalism of the [Department of Justice].”
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung