Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
At the opening of the legal year in January, our Chief Justice, Geoffrey Ma warned us that people with strong views on political and other issues were making “unwarranted criticisms” against Hong Kong’s Rule of Law. At the recent silks’ appointment ceremony, Chief Justice Ma again reminded us that “it is the task of the courts to adjudicate on …different points of view and they do so in accordance with the law, legal principles and the spirit of the law”. In so doing, “their views, political or otherwise, or any other aspect, do not enter into it.” He was trying to explain to the world Hong Kong judiciary was totally independent from any political interference. These are strong, salutary remarks; but unfortunately, they seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
Three days later, the High Court passed a sentence of 6 years imprisonment on Edward Leung Tin-kei, a young pro-independence candidate for Legislative Council election two years ago. Leung was convicted after a trial by jury of the offence of riot committed during the Chinese New Year in 2016. Immediately upon the sentence being passed, Lord Patten, our last Governor in British colonial days, accused the court of “abusing” the law. He further said the law was “now being used politically to place extreme sentences on the pan-democrats and other activists.”
Sadly, what our last Governor said was nothing but a travesty of the facts. Lord Patten seemed to have conveniently forgotten that that same law, which created the statutory offence of riot, was enacted by the British colonial government in 1967, right after widespread riots in Hong Kong at the time. In fact, the very definition of “riot” under that statute was laid down not by the Hong Kong SAR government, let alone the Central Government, but was taken directly from English Common Law without more. In the leading authority of Field v. Metropolitan Police, where the modern law on riot was settled, the English court referred to English authorities dating back to 1795. This was the source of the law on riots in Hong Kong. There is nothing political about it.
What is more, the very criminal act of Leung was caught live on territory wide television and immortalized by YouTube on the internet which showed the same Leung, leading a group of young men, fully equipped with protective gear including shields, goggles and masks, charging against police officers some of whom were badly beaten to the ground. During the riot in Mongkok that night, bricks were thrown and fire was set and many officers were injured, some permanently. Leung, and others who took part in the riot, were tried by a jury who convicted Leung on some but not all of the charges after a very lengthy, careful and pro-acquittal direction over three days by the trial Judge. Such are the facts.
How do you “abuse” the law in these circumstances? No one forced Leung to do what he did. I hope Lord Patten is not suggesting the news recording of the riot was a fake; or that the Judge, along with the jury, was bought by the SAR Government or worse, by the Central Government. Or is Lord Patten suggesting that the law should turn a blind eye when the whole world saw peace had been breached, police officers had been hurt, and a crime had been committed? If giving proper effect to the law is an “abuse”, then is the Rule of Law a “crime’?
There is another affront to every upstanding Hong Kong citizen who respects the law: by suggesting the law was being “used” to achieve a political end, Lord Patten was implying either the Judge and the Jury were foolish enough to be manipulated as a political tool, or worse still, they themselves were the political oppressors; or perhaps the entire judicial system in Hong Kong was either “used” or was itself part of the oppression.
One cannot help but feel sorry for the Judge and the Jury in Leung’s case. On the World stage, they are but small people in a small place like Hong Kong. To Lord Patten, Hong Kong is perhaps only a backwater of civilization and our courts only kangaroo courts so he could defame them at will. And when he did, who is going to defend them if they got ridiculed and wronged? And what about the Rule of Law in Hong Kong? After all, in some people’s eyes, politics is everything; far more important than the Rule of Law, whichis the harsh reality facing the people of Hong Kong.
Politics is an ugly beast. People who are politically against the One Country Two Systems just won’t leave our Rule of Law alone. Not in Hong Kong. When it comes to Hong Kong, everything is cast in evil terms seen through the coloured spectacles of politics, even if there is no truth in it. But the price is dear. You may think you have won a small political battle by belittling our Judges, our jury system, and even our entire judicial system and running our Rule of Law to the ground; but at the end of it, what exactly have you won? Who is to gain? How will anyone benefit if there is no Rule of Law in Hong Kong? Can democracy take root in a place where there is no Rule of Law? Can democracy survive where politicians can be immune to the full force of the Law? You tell me.