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Teresa Cheng

Pan-democrat motion to summon justice minister Teresa Cheng to Legco set to be voted down

  • Pro-establishment parties say they will vote against lawmaker Dennis Kwok’s motion
  • The motion aims to get secretary for justice to appear and explain her decision not to seek outside legal advice before dropping CY Leung case
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 6:25pm

Pro-establishment camp lawmakers are set to vote down a motion to get Hong Kong’s embattled justice minister to explain her handling of misconduct allegations against former leader Leung Chun-ying.

The non-binding motion tabled on Wednesday would summon Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah to a Legislative Council meeting under Article 73(5) and (10) of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

“If you tell the Hong Kong people that there was no need to consult external counsel before making a big decision on your own, I think you are dreaming,” said Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who tabled the motion.

Kwok had asked for Cheng to present Legco with all relevant documents and testify in front of lawmakers about her handling of Leung’s case.

His motion, which requires majority support from both Legco’s geographical and functional constituencies to pass, is likely to be voted down when the meeting resumes on Thursday.

The pro-establishment camp has a majority in both constituencies.

In her response to Kwok’s motion, Cheng reiterated her stance that it was not the Department of Justice’s common practice to seek external legal advice.

Cheng also said it might be unfair to the person investigated if the department were to publicise case particulars.

“If we disclosed too much information … it could lead to a trial by public opinion,” Cheng said.

Separately, the department echoed Cheng’s remarks in a document submitted to Legco on Wednesday.

Hong Kong justice chief avoids prosecution again

“In the past, there were indeed cases involving such persons in respect of which the prosecutorial decisions were made without seeking outside legal advice,” the department said.

It said whether a case was sensitive was “never a guideline for seeking outside legal advice mandatorily”.

It also said that only in exceptional situations it may give detailed reasons for its prosecution decisions, but added that past incidents might not be seen as precedents for other cases.

Former top prosecutor Grenville Cross, however, called the department’s remark “basically waffle”, as Cheng’s three predecessors adopted the policy of obtaining outside legal advice in sensitive cases, to reassure the public that suspects who were political figures were not receiving any favourable treatment.

Ahead of the hearing next Monday, the Bar Association urged Cheng to consider delegating prosecutorial decisions to the incumbent chief prosecutor. However, upon taking office last year, Cheng rejected similar calls.

Had she … withdrawn from public prosecutions in favour of an independent DPP – a neutral, non-political figure – the present crisis could well have been avoided
Grenville Cross, former director of public prosecutions

“She clearly wanted to retain control [of prosecution decisions] herself, and that decision has now come back to haunt her,” Cross said. “Had she followed her counterparts in Britain, Australia, Canada, Ireland, et cetera, and withdrawn from public prosecutions in favour of an independent DPP – a neutral, non-political figure – the present crisis could well have been avoided.”

Kwok’s move was the pan-democrat’s latest bid to pressure Cheng to explain why the department did not seek outside legal advice, before concluding there was not enough evidence to press charges against Leung.

Last month, the Independent Commission Against Corruption concluded its investigation into Leung over his receipt of payments totalling HK$50 million (US$6.4 million) from Australian firm UGL.

In 2011, UGL had bought DTZ, a company of which Leung was a director.

Leung did not declare the payments, received in chunks before and after he became chief executive in 2012.

Approval ratings for Hong Kong leader and justice chief hit new lows

During the debate, Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said her party – the biggest in Legco – would not back Kwok’s motion.

Lee also accused the pan-democrat camp of employing double standards regarding the department’s policy of seeking outside advice.

Lee said the department also did not seek outside legal advice before making a decision to not press charges against five pan-democrats, who received money from media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying between 2012 and 2014, but the bloc did not speak out against the arrangement.

“Because it was the result they wanted,” Lee said.

Teresa Cheng should have dropped arbitration work, insiders say

Meanwhile, accountancy sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung went so far as to call Cheng, who was present at the meeting, a fool.

“You’ve made yourself a total blunder at the moment, a fool,” Leung said.

“No spin doctor can advise you, not even the chief executive can save you.”

Cheng is set to face lawmakers in a Legco panel meeting on January 28. Only one hour, however, is reserved for discussing the department’s prosecution policy.

Additional reporting by Alvin Lum