Date
14 August 2018
The Honorable Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li (right) of the Court of Final Appeal said any offense that involves violence “oversteps the mark”. Photo: HKEJ
The Honorable Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li (right) of the Court of Final Appeal said any offense that involves violence “oversteps the mark”. Photo: HKEJ

Top judges draw line on use of violence in civil disobedience

A court should put the motives behind civil disobedience into consideration when deciding if leniency is justified, but using violence for such purpose should not be allowed, according to Hong Kong’s top judges.

Hearing on Tuesday the appeal lodged by three Occupy student leaders-Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang – The Honorable Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li of the Court of Final Appeal said any offense that involves violence “oversteps the mark”, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In August last year, the trio were given jail terms of six to eight months by an appeal court after the government appealed their previous sentences of social service for storming the government headquarters in Admiralty in 2014 in a protest that signaled the start of the Occupy Movement.

After spending several months in jail, they were all freed on bail pending the results of their appeal against their jail sentences.

The defendants’ lawyers argued that the appeal court, according to the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, should not have examined other documents that had not been presented in the lower court and jailed the trio as a result as the original social service sentence was neither too heavy nor too light.

One of the lawyers added that the decision to jail the three defendants could create a chilling effect that would deter young people from exercising their civil rights and expressing their opinions freely.

While admitting the appeal court’s move to overrule the original sentence was “a big jump”, Ma said he considered it proper for an appeal court to examine supplementary documents to facilitate its decision, if original documents failed to reflect facts.

Ma maintained that the violence seen in the case was elevated, although not the most serious ever.

Court of Final Appeal Judge Robert Tang Kwok-ching examining new evidence or documents does not mean there will be a new ruling on facts or new opinions.

Judge Leonard Hubert Hoffmann stressed no violence is allowed to achieve the purpose of civil obedience, adding it is natural that different courts may put different weight on sentencing factors.

Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin, who represents the government in the case, said he would accept it if the Court of Final Appeal acknowledges the appeal court’s decision and sets the trio free, although that’s not what the Department of Justice asks for.

Chow told media after the hearing that he hopes to see a positive result from the appeal case as that may determine other cases of the same nature pending the Court of Final Appeal’s decisions.

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TL/BN/CG

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