A Hong Kong magistrate accused of bias towards anti-government protesters has been cleared of wrongdoing in six cases, the city’s judiciary has revealed.
The judiciary also said on Thursday it would publish written summaries of lower court decisions considered to be of public interest on its website, to address the increasing number of complaints against judges.
Against a backdrop of increasing polarisation in Hong Kong, activists from both sides of the political divide have urged the public to file complaints against those judges whose conduct they deem to favour their rivals in protest-related hearings.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu had faced a multitude of complaints in relation to eight cases he presided over. While complaints for six of those were dismissed, two were set aside until the conclusion of a Department of Justice application to review the sentences in those cases.
“The chief magistrate emphasised that the decisions and sentences given in the above-mentioned cases were judicial decisions made independently by the magistrate,” the judiciary said, confirming Ho had been cleared in relation to those six cases.
Ho was previously accused of being sympathetic to the anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong last year.
One complaint concerned his description of three members of Demosisto, the disbanded political party, as “pillars of society”, and that they should preserve their “capable bodies”, when outlining his reasons for not jailing the defendants after convicting them of failing to behave in an orderly manner in the Legislative Council chamber.
In another case, Ho’s decision not to impose a heavy sentence on a university student, who sprayed graffiti on the walls of a police station, also drew a complaint.
But Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak determined that Ho’s comments during sentencing reflected neither political bias, nor the perception of bias, according to a judiciary report released online.
In other complaints, Ho was accused of bias against police witnesses. According to the complainants, in a case involving Eastern District Council member Jocelyn Chau Hui-yan, who was acquitted of assaulting an officer, Ho had shown bias against police when he reprimanded witnesses for “covering one lie with another lie” in their testimonies.
The chief magistrate found Ho’s comments were based on a video shown in court, and they did not reflect a personal bias against police.
According to the report, the rulings were supported by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li.
Complaints filed against the conduct of judges and their decisions have been trending upwards, from 31.26 complaints per 100,000 cases in 2014, to 71.71 complaints per 100,000 cases in 2019, according to the judiciary.
Magistrate complaints have surged from 50 cases in 2018, to 303 last year, with 240 of those relating to just one unidentified court case.
“Starting from this month, summaries of selected decisions in the District Court and Magistrates’ Courts which may attract great public attention will be prepared and uploaded to the judiciary website as far as practicable,” the judiciary said.
Decisions of the Competition Tribunal and those courts above district level are already routinely published in full.
The judiciary also said it would not handle complaints against judicial or statutory decisions. “The reason for this is that the mechanism to deal with any dissatisfaction with judicial or statutory decisions is by way of appeal, review, or related judicial proceedings.”
The Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok, representing the legal sector in the legislature, welcomed the judiciary’s new measures and called on everyone, including members of the opposition camp, not to launch political attacks on judges.
“I will urge the public, before you criticise any judicial decision, to actually have a look at the judgment and use objectivity to analyse the judgment against the facts,” he said.
Holden Chow Ho-ding, a pro-establishment legislator and also a lawyer by training, said the judiciary’s statement could not eradicate public perceptions of bias from some judges.
“One can’t help casting doubt if the same standards are applied to all judges,” said Chow, of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
He also suggested that the judiciary had applied double standards in accepting magistrate Ho’s remarks about police “covering one lie with another lie”, while censuring District Judge Kwok Wai-kin for his apparent show of sympathy for a defendant appearing in court in April over a “Lennon Wall” attack.
Kwok, who likened “Cultural Revolution-like” anti-government protesters to a terrorist army, and expressed sympathy with the defendant he jailed for stabbing three people, has been barred from handling cases relating to the demonstrations.
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung and Jeffie Lam
More from South China Morning Post:
- First person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law will stand trial at High Court, with no cap on sentencing
- Hong Kong protests: magistrate sticks to appeal court guidelines on ‘deterrence’ in sending university student to correctional facility
- Treat students arrested over protests leniently, disregard anonymous complaints against teachers, principals urge Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam
- How will Hong Kong’s judiciary handle the security law? The first case offers hope
- Politics should not be allowed to infect our independent judiciary
This article Hong Kong magistrate accused of protest bias cleared after facing multiple complaints, as judiciary says it will publish lower court decision summaries online first appeared on South China Morning Post