Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has told local media that there were no political considerations in the cases relating to Civic Party member Ken Tsang, a day after both Tsang and seven officers suspected of beating him up were charged.
Civic Party member Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) member Ip Kwok-him both expressed their disbelief at the statement, while – at a separate event – Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying emphasised the importance of rule of law.
‘No political considerations’
Speaking to local media, Yuen defended the decision to charge Tsang with assault on the same day. “It is appropriate to have them charged on the same day and to have them arrange to go before the court also on the same day, and also [to] the same court… the intention is to ensure procedural fairness,” he said. He also denied that the decision was made to dilute the seven officer’s crimes or that it was an attempt to divert attention.
“Any suggestion that the prosecution of Mr Tsang is to blacken his character or his reputation is absolutely groundless,” he said. However, not all agreed.
“If the public really believes there are no political factors… they are really naive,” lawyer Alvin Yeung Yeung said in a radio interview. He also said that the government had been drip-feeding information about the case to the public over the past week before the prosecution, even though the information was supposed to be strictly confidential. This showed that the government wanted people to discuss the case, he claimed.
Lawmaker Ip Kwok-him also said that “there had been political considerations from the beginning”.
Principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong Eric Cheung Tat-ming said in an interview with RTHK that the benefits of this sort of “cross prosecution” was that it was fair. He also said that the Department of Justice had to take into consideration whether the credibility of a person’s testimony would come under question if he were a defendant in one case but a prosecution witness in another.
According to Cheung, the seven officers are charged under section 17A of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance, which has a higher threshold of proof than section 19, which did not require proof of intent. However, s17A also carries a heavier maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while one could only be imprisoned for up to three years under s19.
The act of charging all seven officers with the same crime could be explained by the concept of joint enterprise in criminal law, which usually concerns people who jointly participate in the commission of a crime, Cheung said.
Cheung said that it was probably due to these issues that the decision to prosecute took rather long to make.
Hong Kong’s ‘fine tradition of rule of law’
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was visiting London, said at a dinner hosted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council that the legal system was a core value of Hong Kong and that the city’s global success as an international financial centre was owed to the “fine tradition of the rule of law”.
“What remains unchanged through the days, and in fact buttressing the development of Hong Kong over the last few decades are the common law system, independent judiciary and rule of law,” Leung said.