Hong Kong Law & Crime

HKU gagging order to continue until case is concluded, High Court rules

The hearing for the injunction applied for by University of Hong Kong (HKU) regarding the leaking of a governing Council meeting continued at the High Court on Tuesday. The judge further adjourned the case and, in the meantime, the injunction will continue and the media will be prohibited from publishing the contents of the confidential council discussions.

The hearing was in relation to an interim injunction granted in October after recordings of HKU Council members Arthur Li and Leonie Ki were published by Commercial Radio. The leaks disclosed the contents of a closed-door meeting in which the appointment of former HKU law dean Johannes Chan as pro-vice-chancellor was rejected.

high court

Photo: HKFP.

According to sources cited by the Apple Daily and Sing Tao Daily, both HKU Alumni Concern Group convenor Ip Kin-yuen and a Government and Laws year two student decided not to join the proceedings as an interested party, following the narrowing of the scope of the injunction during the last hearing.

Marcus Lau Yee-ching, editor-in-chief  of student publication Undergrad, the Hong Kong Journalist Association, and Apple Daily has asked to join in the proceedings. The three parties submitted a joint statement earlier, stating that freedom of the press, which was guaranteed under the Basic Law, should not be violated, especially when the matter relates to the higher education institute which was receiving the highest amount of government funding.

‘A matter of public interest’

Senior Counsel for Apple Daily Martin Lee Chu-ming, said that the case was a matter of public interest and the injunction should not be extended. “[Is the injunction] for the sake of HKU, or is it to prevent someone from being embarrassed? Is it for saving that person’s face, or is it for the betterment of the cause?” Sing Tao Daily reported Lee as saying.

martin lee

Martin Lee. File photo: HKFP.

Jeffrey Tam Chun-kit, who represented the HKJA, said that HKU has never stated what their true objective of applying for the injunction was, and that – even if the university was concerned that members of the HKU Council would worry that they could not speak freely – it was merely speculation.

Clifford Smith, lawyer for HKU, said that it was common sense that members of the Council should follow confidentiality rules. He also said that freedom of the press was not sufficient grounds to breach the principles of confidentiality and the injunction could prevent such a breach from happening.

Smith also said that the case was still in its preliminary stages and that – without a trial – the judge could conclude whether the leaks were in line with public interests. As such, even if the media was only allowed to publish the contents after the trial has ended, it would still be in the interest of the public.

Smith opposed the addition of Apple Daily, the HKJA and the Undergrad editor-in-chief as parties to the proceedings.

Justice Godfrey Lam Wan-ho adjourned the hearing and decided that the injunction will continue until the case is concluded.

Scope of injunction narrowed

At a hearing on November 6, the scope of the injunction was narrowed to only cover the content of meetings from June 30 onwards. Those who breach the terms of the injunction will be brought in as second defendants to the case.

Johannes Chan (left) and Leonie Ki (right). File Photo: Apple Daily.

Johannes Chan (left) and Leonie Ki (right). File Photo: Apple Daily.

In October, HKU obtained an interim injunction, forcing Commercial Radio to remove recordings of speeches by the two Council members during a controversial session on September 29 in which the governing body rejected the appointment of former HKU law dean Johannes Chan Man-mun as pro-vice-chancellor of the university. Prior to the hearing on November 6 which was to deal with the injunction, Commercial Radio and HKU reached a consensus in the High Court, with Commercial Radio agreeing not to republish the two leaked recordings of the Council meeting.

HKU gagging order to continue until case is concluded, High Court rules