22 October 2016
Henry Litton (L) has cited a petition lodged by former HKU student leader Yvonne Leung (R) in the past as an example of unnecessary legal action. Photo: RTHK
Henry Litton (L) has cited a petition lodged by former HKU student leader Yvonne Leung (R) in the past as an example of unnecessary legal action. Photo: RTHK

Former top judge slams abuse of judicial review system

A former top court judge has criticized the misuse of the judicial review system, noting that people have been filing frivolous review applications against decisions taken by the government and public organizations.

Henry Litton, who had served in the Court of Final Appeal, warned against abuse of the legal remedy process available in the city, Ming Pao Daily News reported.

During a luncheon speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) on Wednesday, Litton cited a petition lodged by Yvonne Leung Lai-kwok, law student and head of the Hong Kong University Students Union in 2014, as an example of avoidable litigation.

Leung had sought a judicial review of the government’s proposal for political reform and the process for the 2017 chief executive election.

One wonders if Leung was merely trying to polish up her resume by triggering a court action, Litton said. 

Litton noted that a fundamental rule in separation of powers is that the court is not concerned with policy.

The courtroom is a place for vindication of legal rights and redress of wrongs done, and not a debating hall for government policies, he said.

Citing another case, Litton said a judicial review application from a Cheung Chau resident, Kwok Cheuk-kin, on the method for selecting the chief executive in 2017 should not have been accepted.

It is ridiculous that Kwok has made the chief executive and everyone in the government a putative respondent, the former judge said.

Litton said the judicial review on Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge in 2010 is a case in point to prove that such applications could entail social costs.

He noted that the petition led to the construction work being halted for five months, adding to the project cost.

Asked for her response to Litton’s criticism, former HKU student leader Yvonne Leung told Ming Pao that she doesn’t consider a lawsuit against the chief executive as a personal achievement, and that she will not mention it in her resume.

She said she believes she would have other achievements that are really worth putting in her CV.

Leung added that she has been taught that people in power should have checks and balances, and that judicial reviews can help gauge how the administration is doing.

Apart from the courts, who else will have the authority to overrule a wrong decision by the administration, she asked.

Legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang from the Civic Party agreed that there has been an uptrend in filings for judicial reviews. 

However, higher thresholds have been applied by the court in accepting such applications, he said.

Kwok noted that judicial reviews exemplify the rule of law and separation of powers, and that they are legitimate tools that ordinary citizens can take to challenge the exercise of power by the administration.

Fellow lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong said judicial reviews filed before 1997 were mostly non-political, whereas many cases filed after the handover were politically-driven.

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