Hong Kong judge accused of bias over jailing of 62-year-old who assaulted police officer cleared of any wrongdoing

Ng Kang-chung
·4-min read

A Hong Kong judge accused of bias has been cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation by the city’s judiciary.

In May last year, Principal Magistrate Don So Man-lung sentenced an elderly man to six months in jail for assaulting an officer and another person, but that decision was overturned on appeal and the sentence reduced to three weeks.

Don So was accused of favouring police with his ruling, but in a report released on Wednesday, the judiciary said it was satisfied that there was no “impropriety in the judicial conduct of the principal magistrate [Don So Man-lung]”.

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“Although [Don So’s] judicial decision was overturned by the Court of First Instance on appeal, this is not to be equated with a finding of bias in his judicial conduct,” the report said.

Chung Chi-wah was assaulted in North District Hospital after being arrested. Photo: Handout
Chung Chi-wah was assaulted in North District Hospital after being arrested. Photo: Handout

The accusation of bias stemmed from a case in 2020, when Do So sentenced 62-year-old Chung Chi-wah to six months in prison for injuring an officer and bystander in June the year before while drunk.

After his arrest, Chung was sent to North District Hospital where security cameras captured him being beaten by police officers while he was strapped to the bed.

The three officers involved were later jailed for between 17 months and 32 months in a separate court case last December. Chung, who was granted a one-third discount for his guilty plea by Don So, was sentenced to two months for common assault and four months for assaulting police, and ordered to serve the two terms consecutively.

The Court of First Instance, in upholding Chung’s appeal last August, held that Don So had imposed a manifestly excessive sentence, but pointed out the magistrate did not err in his dealing with the mitigating factors and he “could not be faulted” for imposing an immediate custodial sentence.

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Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak investigated the complaints, which among other things accused Don So of disregarding sentences in similar cases, and imposing “heavy sentences on ordinary citizens but lenient sentences on police officers”.

Those complaints were dismissed in the report, which said disagreeing with a ruling did not mean it was biased.

“In the case of judicial decision, including conviction or sentence, people may disagree with it because of their perspective or political view, but this cannot be taken to suggest that the judicial decision or the judicial officer is biased,” the report said.

The judiciary was satisfied that Don So had explained the basis and reasons for the sentence he passed, which included factors such as the number and area of attack, and expressly indicated that he was aware of the statutory maximum penalty for the second charge, and the fact that different victims were involved in the charges.

Magistrate Don So was cleared of any wrongdoing. Photo: Handout
Magistrate Don So was cleared of any wrongdoing. Photo: Handout

Victor So concluded that “the complaints against the judicial conduct of the principal magistrate in adjudicating [Chung’s] case are not substantiated”.

Against a backdrop of increasing polarisation in Hong Kong, activists from both sides of the political divide have resorted to making complaints against judges whose rulings they believe favoured their rivals in protest-related hearings.

Complaints against judges and judicial officers rose from 159 in 2014, to 368 in 2019, and jumped to 5,559 last year, according to the judiciary’s annual reports.

According to the judiciary, this was because of “the surge in the number of identical or similar complaints against [judicial officers] in relation to certain court decisions and court cases”.

Of the 5,559 complaints in 2020, 5,488 were related to those identical or similar complaints, the judiciary’s annual report said.

From July last year, the judiciary started posting on its website the outcomes of investigations into public complaints against judicial officers in relation to their rulings on cases.

Three magistrates accused of being biased in their rulings, Stanley Ho Chun-yiu, Kelly Shui, and Cheang Kei-hong, were previously cleared of any wrongdoing.

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