A Hong Kong magistrate who believed she was misled by an experienced defence counsel in ordering that an 18-year-old student be bound over for carrying a flick knife last year has reviewed her sentence on her own initiative and sent him to a rehabilitation centre.
Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han on Thursday acknowledged that non-custodial sentences were very rarely replaced by custodial ones, but said the court had no choice given the case’s unique circumstances.
Student Ng Ming-yeung, whose original sentence was set aside and replaced by a rehabilitation centre order, was also denied bail pending appeal, but reminded that he could renew his application at the High Court.
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The Eastern Court case stemmed from a 21.2cm-long flick knife found in the backpack of the 18-year-old when he was intercepted by police in Chai Wan at about 7.01am on November 11, while the city was roiled by anti-government protests.
Ng was found guilty of possessing a prohibited weapon on June 18, as Heung concluded the blade was a dangerous weapon capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm and was in his possession and control.
He was then remanded to await sentencing, but secured an early release when the High Court granted bail on June 24.
Pre-sentencing reports found him suitable for probation or admission to a rehabilitation or training centre, but did not recommend a detention centre since he was overweight.
The court also heard he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and that he did not perform well at school, both in terms of conduct and studies.
Ng was bound over on June 30 after refusing to accept probation – which the magistrate had preferred but required his consent – while his defence counsel Douglas Kwok King-hin argued for non-custodial sentencing options, quoting from the High Court judge as he did.
But the magistrate later read the transcript of the bail hearing on June 24 and found some comments had been taken out of context, which prompted the review.
On Thursday, Heung said she had mistakenly imposed an inappropriate sentence that was too lenient and unsuitable for Ng because she was misled by Kwok’s inaccurate summary of the higher court’s comments on the available options, which led her to believe she was limited to non-custodial ones.
If you accept the probation order, you can go home and live with your mother while the probation officer supervises you and offers counsel. You must remember the choice is yours
Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han
She reiterated that probation was most suitable for Ng as she believed that he needed professional intervention, supervision and counselling to improve his situation, or his bad behaviour could continue, if not worsen.
The court heard Ng was recommended 18 months’ probation with special conditions attached, which included staying home from 10pm to 8am, working, socialising and providing urine samples as directed by the probation officer, as well as attending rehabilitation groups and receiving psychological and psychiatric treatment.
“If you accept the probation order, you can go home and live with your mother while the probation officer supervises you and offers counsel,” Heung told the defendant. “You must remember the choice is yours. For your own good, think carefully.”
But Kwok said his client would not agree to probation, as he had already learned his lesson during the seven days in remand before sentencing.
“The court has no choice but to sentence the defendant to the rehabilitation centre,” Heung concluded.
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