The Court of Final Appeal ruled that a man was wrongfully convicted of tampering with a motor vehicle, because there was no evidence to show that he had done so.
Law Yat-ting, who owns a handset accessory shop, had already spent six weeks behind bars, Sky Post reported Tuesday.
He was arrested on Feb. 21 last year in Tsuen Wan after the driver of a light goods vehicle called the police and accused Law of stealing his mobile phone.
The driver said he had seen Law closing the left front door of the van and chased him down when he discovered his mobile phone was missing from the passenger seat.
Since police did not find the phone on Law after searching him, they decided to charge him with tampering with a motor vehicle.
A magistrate convicted Law, who did not have a lawyer at the time, and sentenced him to six weeks in prison.
Law’s appeal to the High Court, in which he was assisted by a legal aid lawyer, was rejected.
He then lodged an appeal with the Court of Final Appeal.
Justice Joseph Fok, a permanent judge of Hong Kong’s highest court, based his ruling Monday on the crucial meaning of “tampering”, which had not been brought up in the lower courts.
Fok said it was unfortunate that material issues are often not raised in lower courts, particularly when defendants are not represented by a lawyer.
The judge ruled that merely touching a vehicle without causing damage or alteration to it would not amount to tampering with it.
Since there was no evidence to show that, under this definition, Law had tampered with the vehicle, Fok said the conviction was wrongful and should be quashed.
The judge said it was “most regrettable” that Law had to serve six weeks in prison.
Fok ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pay Law more than HK$14,000 in court and legal costs.
Law was assisted without charge by Eric Cheung Tat-ming, director of clinical legal education in the faculty of law at the University of Hong Kong, and some of his students during his second appeal.
While Law had sought legal aid for his appeal, he never expected it would be Cheung who would handle the case.
Cheung said there are an average of 24 students from the law school taking part in the clinical legal education program.
They help people in need on a voluntary basis.
“The idea is to let students handle real-life cases and to understand there is more than the monetary reward to being a lawyer,” Cheung said.
He said students in the program have assisted in nearly 800 cases over the last five years.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said Law could file a claim for compensation against the DOJ.
Solicitor Vitus Leung Wing-hang said any persons jailed for crimes they never committed could seek compensation from the government.
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