7 January 2020
Quite a number of judges are baffled by accusations that they are dragging their feet on protest-related cases. Photo: HKEJ
Quite a number of judges are baffled by accusations that they are dragging their feet on protest-related cases. Photo: HKEJ

Judges decry accusations of foot-dragging on protest cases

Since the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement in June last year, more than 6,000 people have been arrested, among whom about 1,000 are now facing criminal charges.

Some 400 people were arrested during clashes between police and protesters on New Year’s Day alone, following a massive march on Hong Kong Island.

As a number of these protest-related cases have entered the judicial process, some members of the pro-establishment camp have, on numerous occasions, lashed out at the judiciary for being “sluggish” in handling them.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, representing the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, has even suggested that special courts be established to expedite the handling of the cases on a “round-the-clock” basis.

Some netizens are also accusing judges and magistrates of “dragging their feet” on these cases.

However, quite a number of members of the judicial sector, including foreign judges, are baffled by such accusations.

As they have explained, the pace with which court proceedings are moving forward is actually not determined by the magistrates or judges.

On some occasions, in fact, it was the prosecution that has sought postponement of the court hearings, with the judges only playing a passive role.

According to sources, a foreign justice with the Court of Final Appeal has recently lamented to a local political figure over the impression that judges are deliberately going slow on arrested protesters, something that the foreign judge found totally incomprehensible.

The foreign justice said it isn’t up to the judiciary to decide the speed with which criminal cases are moving through the court system.

In many circumstances, the judge explained, court hearings were postponed at the request of the prosecution as it had not prepared to provide the necessary documents.

One striking example about court adjournment as a result of the prosecution’s sloppy work is a recent hearing held at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, during which 96 people were standing trial for alleged involvement in the Sept. 29 clashes in Admiralty.

On the day of the hearing, the prosecution suddenly sought a 12-week postponement, which was granted by the magistrate, because 10 mistakes were found in the charge sheet it had prepared, including both the English and Chinese names of some defendants.

A figure within the legal sector has pointed out that, judging from the recent cases, the court didn’t delay hearing them, and that repeated accusations of the pro-Beijing camp and some members of the public that judges were “dragging their feet” are absolutely unfair.

Probably, the source said, they are just ignorant about criminal case procedures.

Normally, the court would not turn down any request made by the prosecution to postpone hearings on the grounds of allowing itself more time to gather information and prepare papers despite the defense’s objection, the source said.

Meanwhile, there has been talk that some legal figures within the pro-establishment camp have already stepped up their efforts at explaining to their colleagues how the court system actually works in order to dispel the myth that judges are deliberately going easy on the arrested protesters.

The pro-establishment camp isn’t the only side blaming the court on unreasonable grounds. The pro-democracy bloc and netizens, too, have often been lambasting the judiciary for making court rulings that aren’t to their liking.

As both the yellow and blue ribbon camps only agree with court decisions that work in their favor, the source said, it is?no wonder that not a single prominent figure in the legal sector is willing to join the independent review committee to seek the truth about the months-long protests as?proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 25

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.