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The doctor behind a clinic that introduced an experimental cancer therapy which killed a woman in Hong Kong’s worst beauty treatment blunder has won an appeal to reduce his jail term by two years to 10.
The Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld the manslaughter convictions of DR Group founder Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing, 65, and his laboratory technician Chan Kwun-chung, 34, over the “unfortunate” death of Chan Yuen-lam, 46, on October 10, 2012.
But the three judges unanimously found that their sentences, of 12 and 10 years respectively, imposed in 2017 were “too high”, considering the focus of their case was the failure to have a safe system in place to protect the sterility and integrity of the product.
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Both men had their sentences reduced by two years, with the judges acknowledging the “tragic circumstances” of Chan’s wife, who divorced him because of his involvement and later committed suicide after he was sentenced, leaving their four-year-old daughter in the care of her grandparents.
Chan was given a new term of eight years for his “appalling criminal negligence”, which resulted in the case.
The High Court previously heard the victim died of multi-organ failure caused by mycobacterium abscessus septicaemia, a week after receiving an infusion of a blood product that was marketed as a health boost, prepared by Chan and administered by Dr Mak Wan-ling at Chow’s clinic.
Three other women, including Chow’s sister, also fell seriously ill after undergoing the treatment.
Subsequent investigations revealed the blood products injected into their bloodstream were never tested for bacteria.
Prosecutors argued the defendants owed the victim a duty of care, but breached that duty with such disregard for life and safety that the case shifted from what would typically be a civil matter to a criminal prosecution.
The jury agreed after hearing 98 days of evidence, convicting Chow and Chan, but was unable to reach a verdict on Mak, 40.
Mak was tried again last year and jailed for 3½ years on the same manslaughter charge. She challenged her conviction and is awaiting a ruling after a separate hearing.
On appeal, both Chow and Chan’s lawyers argued that the trial judge, Madam Justice Judianna Barnes, had erred in directing the jury, and complained that her summing-up of the evidence was “unfair and unbalanced”.
But the court dismissed all nine grounds of appeal, noting in particular that Barnes had given all three defendants “extremely favourable” directions on a key ingredient of the offence, which was subsequently found by the Court of Final Appeal – in separate proceedings linked to Mak’s retrial – to have gone too far.
The judges also “unreservedly” rejected complaints about the summing-up, noting that this was not an easy case, involving “very intricate facts and unusual legal issues”.
“Yet the judge achieved it, over the course of five days, with her characteristic thoroughness, helpful approach to, and compartmentalisation of, the issues, simplicity of language and, above all, fairness to all parties,” Court of Appeal vice-president Mr Justice Andrew Macrae wrote in a 97-page judgment.
“The suggestion of an unfair and unbalanced summing-up … is not, with respect, a complaint which should have been advanced in this particular case.”
The panel of judges also included Mr Justice Kevin Zervos and Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam.
Manslaughter is punishable by life in prison.