A 16-year-old who hurled a petrol bomb at police quarters during Hong Kong’s 2019 anti-government protests has become the latest to see his original sentence toughened after the appeal court found a probation order inadequate and ordered him to a training centre.
The Court of Appeal on Thursday concluded the custodial option was the most appropriate sentence for the teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, after balancing the gravity of his offence with the need for rehabilitation.
At least 10 sentences have been upended by the appeal court in recent months following applications for review by prosecutors.
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Training centre sentences can range from a period of six months to three years, depending on the teenage offender’s performance in custody, during which he or she is to be trained in a trade.
The case was one of eight involving protesters originally handled by Magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu that drew enough complaints that the judiciary decided to address them collectively in a webpage introduced last year. Ho has been cleared of allegations of bias in six of the cases, but the judiciary has yet to address the present case in light of ongoing proceedings.
Prosecutors had previously convinced the three-judge panel to allow their review application and set aside the teen’s original sentence, imposed last August, on the basis that his three-year probation order did not adequately reflect his culpability.
The teen had pleaded guilty to an arson charge, for hurling a petrol bomb at the Chai Wan Police Married Quarters on November 18, 2019, a day marked by violent clashes outside Polytechnic University. The bomb hit a window of one of the blocks before landing in a car park below.
Pre-sentencing reports concluded he had learned a bitter lesson and regretted his actions, especially for worrying his parents and bringing them distress.
Defence counsel Lawrence Lau urged the court to consider the alternative of a rehabilitation centre, which emphasised community reintegration, with a shorter period of detention capped at nine months.
“He has reflected on his conduct,” Lau argued for his client. “He’s willing to change.”
But Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Vinci Lam Wing-sai expressed concern about the possibility of reoffending, noting the teen had remained silent during a recent interview in which he was confronted about the lives he had endangered, suggesting he still had no empathy for those living in the quarters.
Mr Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor, the chief judge of the High Court, also questioned if a longer period of detention in a disciplinary setting would be more helpful for the teenager at a critical period in his formative years.
The judge further noted that an adult committing the same crime would have been jailed for four to five years, and a short sentence in the present case might not have a deterrent effect.
Poon, along with justices Derek Pang Wai-cheong and Maggie Poon Man-kay, will give their full reasons for their decision at a later date.