The Hong Kong Bar Association has said it is concerned about a recent judgment that suggested the presence of certain public figures at a jury trial might be a part of an attempt to influence the jury. It said it was the public’s right to observe the due process of the law.
In a judgment related to ex-Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, High Court Judge Andrew Chan had said that Tsang may have agreed to the use of public relations professionals to bring in a number of prominent political figures to attend his trial. Tsang was ordered to pay around HK$5 million in legal costs after failing to cooperate with a corruption investigation.
The judge suggested that the people may have been brought in to inform and impress upon the jury that Tsang was a good person and had support from a wide spectrum of society. Chan wrote that, if he realised the engagement of a public relations firm or consultant earlier, he may have considered discharging the entire jury.
The Bar Association said in a statement on Friday that the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights guarantee residents the right of a public hearing when tried for a criminal offence.
“That right carries with it the associated right of the public to observe the due process of the law. This is at the heart of the right of an accused person to have an open and transparent criminal process,” it said. “These constitutionally guaranteed rights are fundamental. They should not in any way be restricted without a very strong and compelling reason.”
“The HKBA is concerned that the Court’s remarks may be seen to carry an implication that some members of public, because of their own public profile or reputation, should not attend a criminal trial, notwithstanding that the Court does, in other parts of the judgment, appear to acknowledge that every citizen is entitled to observe legal proceedings conducted in public.”
Opportunity to answer
The Bar Association said that there was no evidence in the judgment that the attendance of public figures had been organised by PR professionals for the purpose of influencing the jury.
Some of the public figures named in the judgment, including former justice secretary Wong Yan-lung, have stated openly that their attendance was entirely voluntary, and unrelated to PR firms.
“Before any conclusion or inference is be drawn that an accused might have engaged in conduct which was meant to influence a jury, elementary fairness requires that the accused be offered an opportunity to answer the allegation; equally, persons who are thought to be complicit in arrangements to influence a jury should be given an opportunity to explain why they were at court,” the Bar said.
“Nothing in the judgment indicates that any such party was invited to make any representation to answer the allegation.”
The Bar Association said it accepted that any juror discharging his or her civic duty must be protected against threats or improper influence.
“Any attempts to tamper with any jurors strike at the very foundation of our criminal justice system and must be forcefully dealt with,” it said.
“If threats or improper influences are suspected to have been made, or that jurors complain that they feel inhibited in performing their duties by the presence of any persons attending a criminal trial, the matter needs to be inquired into by a judge… In a proper case, the judge should refer the matter to the Police for investigation and further handling by the Department of Justice.”
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