A Hong Kong court has dismissed a rare private prosecution brought against opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok alleging misconduct in public office over his handling of a controversial Legislative Council committee chairman election.
The Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court said the complainant, local businessman Frederick Wong Man-hon, failed to present any evidence showing which clauses of the legislature’s rules of procedure or house rules had been breached.
“The complainant has not provided any evidence to show how long the House Committee chairman election should take or how many meetings should be held for it to be considered reasonable,” acting principal magistrate Jason Wan Siu-ming said in his judgment, which was delivered on Friday in a closed hearing.
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“Without concrete evidence, it is difficult for the court to judge whether it is reasonable or not that a chairman could not be elected during the 14 House Committee meetings that [Kwok] presided over,” Wan said in his judgment.
“It is a baseless and vague statement that [Kwok was seeking to] delay the election or paralyse the operation of the Legislative Council only because numerous meetings were held.”
Wan was also satisfied no express bias had been shown by Kwok in his handling of the meetings, saying “time taken for a meeting, the number of members who want to speak, or the number of times a point of order is raised is out of [Kwok’s] control”.
The courts should not lightly interfere with the legislature’s matters, Wan added in his ruling.
Kwok declined to comment on the verdict, only saying: “The judgment speaks for itself.”
Legislator Elizabeth Quat, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, expressed disappointment with the court’s decision.
“Anyone who has followed the chairman election saga should have seen how Kwok abused his power as presiding chair to delay the vote,” Quat said. “Kwok might be spared from private prosecution this time, but he cannot fool the public. We all know what he has done.”
The private prosecution against the opposition Civic Party lawmaker was filed in May. The businessman alleged Kwok had tried to stall the House Committee chairman election by dealing with “irrelevant matters” during 14 meetings between October 15, 2019 and April 24 of this year.
The bills held up in the committee resulted in damage to people’s livelihoods, Wong argued, presenting evidence including minutes and video clips of relevant meetings.
Under Hong Kong’s common law system, aggrieved residents can lodge criminal complaints on their own, though the justice secretary can discontinue a private prosecution by taking over and aborting the case, or refusing to endorse the indictment.
Kwok, who for procedural reasons had presided over the House Committee’s meetings from the beginning of the legislative year in October, was repeatedly accused of filibustering by the pro-establishment camp, which claimed he allowed pan-democrats to speak at length with the express purpose of delaying a vote to pick the chairman.
In a strongly worded statement in April, the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office suggested the tactics could amount to misconduct.
“One can’t help thinking their behaviour amounts to a breach of the [Legco] oath, and constitutes an offence of misconduct in public office,” the statement read.
Kwok was singled out in the statement for purportedly abusing his power by allowing the delays, which resulted in scores of pieces of legislation being unable to make their way to Legco for a vote, including the national anthem bill.
Kwok has denied the allegations, saying he acted in accordance with the house rules and rules of procedure.
The deadlock was broken in May after Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen announced Kwok would be replaced with pro-establishment lawmaker Chan Kin-por as presiding chair.
Pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee Wai-king was eventually re-elected to lead the House Committee at a meeting in May, despite a short-lived protest by pan-democrats that saw scuffles break out on the floor.