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Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 23:02

Prosecution tactics fail to impress

By Lau Nai-keung

Lau Nai-keung writes that in the wake of lawmaker Wong Yuk-man’s trial, Hong Kong has to rely on the Department of Justice more than ever to ensure the effective administration of law and order.

If anything, lawmaker Wong Yuk-man’s common assault trial shows how powerless Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is. It seems as if Leung is defending his dignity alone — with no help at all from the government.

Prosecution tactics fail to impress Wong stands accused of throwing a glass at Leung during a Legislative Council question-and-answer session in July 2014. He was charged with common assault last August and denied the charges.

It was the first time a bona fide Chief Executive has testified in court. Wong, conducting his own defense, began his cross-examination of Leung by invoking a recent allegation that Leung had abused his power at the airport. “Shall I call you Chief Executive Leung?” he asked. That was clearly an inappropriate and irrelevant question.

Leung was very clever. Instead of answering the question, he asked the judge to rule on it, and Wong was directed by the judge to address Leung as the “witness”.

This was ridiculous. Imagine if Leung said “objection, your honor!” Wong was unrepresented, but Leung was not — or was he? Why did he have to ask the judge to rule on an opinionated question? Isn’t this the prosecutor’s responsibility?

This was not an isolated incident. The prosecutor’s inaction was evident throughout the trial. For example, Wong also asked Leung why he had not used his special privilege in order to “call the police commissioner” about the glass incident.

The question was challenged by Magistrate Chu Chung-keung, who said that whether Leung resorted to special privilege “was another matter” — but he allowed the question. The prosecutor, again, remained silent.

Another example was when Wong asked Leung whether he knew about the failure of the police to give the CE his typed witness statement regarding the July 3 incident immediately after being interviewed by officers. “The court already has a record,” said Leung. “I don’t want to repeat myself.” At an earlier hearing, Wong had asked Leung about when the 2014 statement was served to him. On that occasion, Leung said he did not receive the statement immediately after he was interviewed, although he did not give a specific time.

He continued: “I don’t want to use different words to express the same opinion.” Leung then said that Wong might accuse him of being contradictory.

It seems as if Leung is actually representing himself. But how can that be?

The prosecution is led by senior assistant director of public prosecutions Anna Lai Yuen-kee. Appointed as senior counsel earlier this year, Lai is the first-ever female public prosecutor to be named a senior counsel in Hong Kong.

According to the South China Morning Post, “Lai, the only one of the four to specialize in criminal trials, is best known for her intense questioning techniques as recently demonstrated in the prosecution of controversial businessman Lew Mon-hung.”

Where have those “intense questioning techniques” been during the Wong Yuk-man trial?

The Department of Justice’s Performance Pledge claims the department is “effectively the largest law practice in Hong Kong”, and that its “principal function is to provide legal advice and legal services to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the Government)”. It seems as if lawyers cannot feel at ease if they are not attached to their client. But can we say Lai’s actions are in her client’s best interest? In fact, are her actions in society’s best interest?

In a year fraught with questions about the rule of law, the last thing we need is any hint that the system is getting shaky. But it has taken prosecutors almost a whole year to bring leaders of the “Occupy” movement to court. When this finally happened, the number of people charged was so small it was way out of proportion to the scale of the event.

During today’s difficult times, Hong Kong relies on its Department of Justice to ensure the effective administration of law and order. While there is still much room for improvement, we count on “the largest law practice in Hong Kong” to have the professional ability to guide us through the troubles ahead.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

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