The city’s professional body for barristers has called on the justice minister to establish protocol and delegate prosecution decisions to the top prosecutor, after her department controversially dropped a case against former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying.
The remarks by the Bar Association come six days before Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah attends a Legislative Council meeting at which she is expected to be grilled by lawmakers on her decision not to seek external legal advice before dropping the corruption case against Leung.
In a latest submission to lawmakers, the association said Cheng’s dual role sitting in the chief executive’s cabinet while overseeing prosecution decisions has led to the perception of bias in Leung’s case.
“No matter what the secretary for justice might say about the propriety of her decision-making in an individual case, the fact is that what matters to the public are appearances,” the association said, making clear it was not concerned about the specifics of the Leung case.
The professional body said that, given Cheng’s official status in Exco, the public might have doubts on controversial prosecution decisions – whether they were made with legal considerations, “or whether it was politically expedient”.
To resolve the public’s concerns, the association urged Cheng to follow the British example and delegate all prosecution decisions to the director of public prosecutions, for all but the most exceptional cases.
It also urged Cheng to clearly explain if the policy of seeking external legal advice had changed.
Cheng on Wednesday dismissed suggestions there was any perceived conflict of interest in Leung’s case, and said the policy to seek external legal advice did not apply.
Although legal scholars and former prosecutors including Johannes Chan Man-mun and Grenville Cross asked if the justice department had departed from past practices in not seeking external legal advice, Cheng gained the support from former top judge Henry Litton, who said it was entirely her decision to make.
The association would not be the first to propose a boundary between the justice minister and prosecutors.
Former top prosecutor Cross and former Exco member Anna Wu Hung-yuk have previously backed similar proposals, which they said would ensure prosecution decisions were seen to be made independently, instilling faith in the rule of law among the public.
This article Lawyers’ group calls on Hong Kong justice minister to delegate prosecution decisions first appeared on South China Morning Post