Bar association challenges judge’s assertion that PR stunt intended at ex-Hong Kong leader’s trial
Group’s statement stresses that members of the public have fundamental right to observe the due process of law
The Hong Kong Bar Association on Friday voiced concerns over a judge’s recent assertion that the presence of high-profile personalities at a former city leader’s trial was an “undesirable” public relations stunt.
The statement by the city’s top body of barristers came 10 days after Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai wrote in a judgment ordering ex-chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to pay HK$4.6 million in legal costs that he believed a firm had been getting prominent figures to sit in the public gallery facing the jury during trial.
The judge said the arrangement aimed to introduce Tsang’s apparent good character to the jury “through the back door” because direct evidence of his character could not for legal reasons be presented directly.
But the association argued there was no indication in the judgment that evidence had been cited to substantiate the judge’s observations.
“Nothing in the judgment indicates that any such party was invited to make representation to answer the allegation,” it said.
The statement stressed that members of the public had a fundamental right to observe the due process of law, and they should not be restricted without a very strong and compelling reason, such as evidence showing an attempt to tamper with the jury, which “strikes at the very foundation of our criminal justice system and must be forcefully dealt with”.
“This is at the heart of the right of an accused person to have an open and transparent criminal process,” the statement read.
“The HKBA is concerned that the court’s remarks may be seen to carry an implication that some members of the public, because of their own public profile or reputation, should not attend a criminal trial, notwithstanding that the court does, in other parts of the judgment, appear to acknowledge that every citizen is entitled to observe legal proceedings conducted in public.”
Several high-profile figures named in the judgment have since hit out at the judge, denying they had been arranged to lend their support during the proceedings.
Tsang’s then secretary for justice Wong Yan-lung called Chan’s observations “factually incorrect”, while former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah clarified through a spokesman that his attendance was borne out of concern for a friend, which he described as a “universal value”.
The association said it accepted that jurors discharging their civic duty must be protected against threats or improper influence.
“In a proper case, the judge should refer the matter to police for investigation and further handling by the Department of Justice,” the statement said.
Tsang was accused of being “favourably disposed” to local radio station Wave Media between 2010 and 2012, after accepting HK$3.8 million (US$485,000) worth of renovation services for a Shenzhen penthouse from Bill Wong Cho-bau, a majority shareholder of the broadcaster.
The property, which Tsang rented as his temporary retirement home, was owned by Wong. The jury was unable to reach a verdict.
But the former top official was sentenced to 20 months in jail last February for failing to disclose a conflict of interest: his negotiations over the penthouse belonging to a company Wong chaired. Tsang is appealing against the sentence.