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Prosecutors and judges should not be victims of abuse, says Hong Kong’s director of public prosecutions

  • In a report on his division’s work in 2017, David Leung said politicised attacks on legal professionals exceed the bounds of freedom of expression
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 9:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 9:05am

Hong Kong’s director of public prosecutions has hit out at verbal abuse of prosecutors and judges, saying that, as ministers of justice, prosecutors and their family members should not be victims of unwarranted abuse.

In a report released on Monday on his division’s work in 2017, David Leung Cheuk-yin also urged the public to have confidence in Hong Kong’s judicial system and “refrain from lodging baseless attacks on judges”.

“In cases of a political nature, some members of the public have lodged attacks on the

presiding judges when the outcome of the case does not tally with their expectation,” he said.

“While open and rational discussions of the reasons for the judgment are healthy … personal attacks on presiding judges (and in one instance, death threats) exceed the bounds of freedom of expression,” Leung warned, adding that such attacks may also incur criminal liability or amount to contempt of court.

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In recent years, the Department of Justice and the judiciary have faced criticism from both the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps for their prosecution decisions and judgments related to the Occupy sit-ins of 2014 and the Mong Kok riots of 2016.

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In February last year, judge David Dufton was verbally abused by supporters of the pro-Beijing camp after he jailed seven police officers for two years each for beating up activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu during the pro-democracy Occupy protests.

Yet, pro-democracy activists also accused the justice department of making “political prosecutions”, which they said had led to the jailing of prominent activists such as Occupy leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung.

Without naming any case in particular, Leung wrote that: “Prosecutors … considered the decision of whether to prosecute and if so, the appropriate charge(s) purely on the available evidence and the principles set out in the Prosecution Code – nothing else.”

“Prosecutors conduct criminal prosecutions not because of their personal interests. They do so on behalf of the public as ministers of justice – hence the title ‘Public Prosecutor’,” he added.

“As ministers of justice, we are dedicated to upholding the rule of law by conducting criminal prosecutions free from any interference.”

Former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross said that because of the political dimension, some people involved were inclined to vent their spleen on prosecutors and judges, whom they saw “as agents of the government which they are opposing”.

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Cross added that the secretary for justice being both a government minister and chief prosecutor in Hong Kong was perceived by some as having a conflict of roles with the fear that “the prosecution system is being used as a tool to punish the government’s opponents”.

He said such views were quite wrong, but understandable. He urged the secretary for justice to disengage from public prosecutions – which he had advocated in 2011 – and to hand over her prosecution powers to an independent director of public prosecutions as had happened in Britain, Australia, Canada and many other places.

According to the report, the total number of cases conducted in court by the department decreased by 9 per cent, from 5,530 in 2016 to 5,023 in 2017.

Among them, the number of cases conducted by fiat counsel, or lawyers from outside the department, decreased by 7 per cent, but the number of court days undertaken by fiat counsel in place of in-house counsel increased by 16.2 per cent in 2017 compared to those in 2016.

The conviction rates after trial in 2017 have seen a general increase, ranging from around 6 percentage points to 14 percentage points compared to 2016.

In the Magistrates’ Court, the conviction rate after trial increased from 49.4 per cent in 2016 to 55.3 per cent last year.

In the District Court, the conviction rate after trial increased from 72.8 per cent in 2016 to 78.5 per cent last year.

The highest surge took place in the Court of First Instance, with conviction rates after trial rising from 56.5 per cent in 2016 to 70.8 per cent in 2017.