HK court extends injunction to opposition politicians to prevent police from accessing their phones

11-Jul-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A Hong Kong court has extended an injunction obtained by five opposition politicians that prevents police from accessing their phones until their legal challenge to those search warrants is heard next month.

Veteran barrister Martin Lee Chu-ming and four other former lawmakers Albert Ho Chun-yan, Au Nok-hin, Sin Chung-kai and Yeung Sum secured the interim order last Saturday in their application for judicial review over a magistrate’s decision to grant police access to “all digital contents” in their smartphones.

The five all members of the Democratic Party, except Au are among a group of 15 people facing a total of 61 charges in relation to processions that took place on four key dates during last year’s anti-government protests sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

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The case raises the question of how an individual’s right to privacy should be balanced against the broader public interest in the due administration of justice.

Arguing for the extension of the interim order in a hearing on Friday, Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC, for the applicants, argued that the police undertaking was “blatantly insufficient”, given the lack of safeguards and information as to how intrusive the search might be.

“At the end of the day it’s a matter of trust,” Pang said. “And the applicants don’t trust the commissioner.”

Lawyers for the city’s police commissioner had sought to lift that injunction and have it replaced by an undertaking that officers would not inspect any part of the digital contents if they were allowed to unlock the devices and generate data images such as screen captures for efficient investigation.

Acting deputy law officer William Liu Kwun-wa, for the commissioner, observed that there were already signs of delaying tactics in the case and argued that officers should be allowed to start unlocking the phones in the interest of the criminal justice system as this process alone could take months.

He also explained that the devices would be handled by a computer programme so officers would not be able to view the digital contents and the applicants’ right to privacy would not be infringed.

“It is regrettable that the applicants are not able to trust police,” Liu continued. “The undertaking proffered is a solemn one with legal consequences.”

But Justice Russell Coleman of the High Court on Friday concluded that the appropriate course of action was to continue the injunction a little longer as the judicial review set for expedited hearing on August 13 could be dealt with “well within” next month, while the criminal trial still had months to go.

Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han, who granted the eight search warrants at Eastern Court, has been excused from these proceedings after she adopted a neutral stance towards the application for the judicial review.

The five applicants are due to return to West Kowloon Court on July 15, for their cases to be transferred to the higher District Court, where jail terms go up to seven years.


Category: Hong Kong

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