Hong Kong courts

Ex-president of Hong Kong legislature defends ‘sinners of society’ attack on judges by pro-Beijing politician

Jasper Tsang says ‘every public servant in Hong Kong is open to attacks’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 8:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 11:00pm

A former head of Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday suggested judicial officials should be fair game for criticism like any public servants, as he defended an attack by a local pro-Beijing politician who labelled five judges “sinners of society”.

But Jasper Tsang Yok-sing conceded any comments should be within the law, and said he would remind Stanley Ng Chau-pei, a local delegate to the national legislature, that his remarks had been inflammatory.

Tsang was speaking a day after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor hit back at Ng for taking aim at a court decision to free 13 activists jailed over a 2014 protest.

Lam weighed in on the debate after Ng on his Facebook page labelled judges on the city’s top court “killers of young people” and “sinners of society” for their decision last Friday to overturn the sentences.

On Tuesday the chief executive said insults or personal attacks on judges were “regrettable” and “unacceptable”.

But Tsang on Wednesday said “every public servant in Hong Kong is open to attacks from the public”.

In an online programme hosted by former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, the former president of the Legislative Council said: “Why are the chief executive, Legco president and all principal officials often open to criticism, but not judges?”

Pro-Beijing politician’s attack on Hong Kong judges as ‘sinners of society’ earns stiff rebuke from leader Carrie Lam

Ng had merely been commenting on the court’s decision, and had not pointed any fingers while legal procedures were in progress, Tsang said.

But he did concede that Ng’s choice of words could have been better. Tsang said Ng was his friend and he would remind him of the fiery reaction such comments were likely to spark.

Speaking after the programme, Tsang added: “What is most important is that we abide by the law. No one can unlawfully or illegally make contemptuous or derogatory remarks about either judges or any public servant. But aside from that, we enjoy freedom of speech, and the public can distinguish what is right and what is wrong.”

However, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the Executive Council, Lam’s quasi-cabinet, disagreed.

“Judges are open to criticism if it is based on reasonable grounds ... but Ng’s words were more like personal attacks,” the barrister said.

Pro-democracy activists freed by Hong Kong's highest court on grounds they suffered a grave injustice after jailing for ‘extremely violent’ protest

Any derogatory remark that influences the general social perception of the courts could constitute contempt, even if delivered outside of legal proceedings, Tong said.

“A basic component of the rule of law is public respect for the legal system and judges,” he said.

Freedom of speech was not a factor, Tong said.

The 13 activists had each received jail sentences of up to 13 months from a lower court for unlawful assembly, following an “extremely violent” protest outside the Legislative Council complex on June 13, 2014.

The five judges on the Court of Final Appeal later reversed that judgment and questioned the lower court’s decision to use a 15-month jail term as the starting point for sentencing. But they did endorse new sentencing guidelines laying out stiffer punishments for violent, unlawful assemblies.