HK magistrate among judges accused of misconduct in protest hearings cleared of wrongdoing

24-Oct-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A Hong Kong magistrate accused of bias and uttering political comments when she put a teen on probation for hurling petrol bombs during last year’s social unrest has been cleared of misconduct.

But Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak nonetheless found the remarks made by Kelly Shui inappropriate, a view shared by the city’s appeal justices, who sent the 15-year-old boy to detention after finding Shui too lenient in sentencing.

Shui drew criticism, mostly from the pro-establishment camp, after she spared the boy custodial sentences and placed him on 18 months’ probation for throwing three petrol bombs on a road in Yuen Long and for possessing items believed to be used in making them during the early hours of January 8.

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That sentence was overturned last month by the Court of Appeal, which sent the boy to detention at Sha Tsui Correctional Institution after concluding that the Tuen Mun Court magistrate’s ruling was “manifestly inadequate”.

Critics took issue with the May 26 sentence hearing, where Shui reportedly described the boy as a “fine kid” who was “full of passion”. They questioned whether the lenient sentence passed alongside such remarks would send a wrong message to society that judges condoned violent acts.

After the time for lodging further appeals expired, the judiciary responded to the complaints on Thursday, saying the chief magistrate had concluded after a review that such accusations were “unsubstantiated” and made out of context.

The judiciary’s report said So, upon examining the transcript of an audio recording of Shui’s ruling, found Shui was in fact telling the teen that the court derived no pleasure in sentencing juveniles with good background, before advising him that committing an offence on sheer impulse or out of passion would only sadden his parents.

“What the magistrate said did not directly or indirectly encourage any form of violence or criminal conduct,” the report said.

The top magistrate echoed the appeal court’s view, however, that Shui’s depiction of the teen was “questionable” and might be “overrated”, but added that this, on its own, was insufficient to support a conclusion that she was guilty of apparent bias.

So also pointed out that the justice department made no complaints about Shui’s sentencing remarks when it applied to the appeal court to impose a heftier sentence on the boy last month.

“The chief magistrate is of the view that even though the magistrate’s remark about the defendant is not an appropriate one and that she erred in attaching inappropriate weight to the mitigating factors, the magistrate had not expressed any view on the criminal conduct of the defendant for which he was convicted that indicates a political inclination or gives rise to a perception of apparent bias,” the judiciary said.

Complaints of bias against judicial officers should be made in consideration of the context of the relevant statements, it added.

Shui was among a handful of magistrates who became the subject of numerous complaints while handling cases that stemmed from protest-related proceedings, as Hong Kong became increasingly polarised amid last year’s anti-government movement.

Camps on either side of the political divide had hit out at judges deemed to have favoured their opponents in protest-linked cases.

Then magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu, who has been appointed a temporary deputy registrar of the High Court until next June, faced a string of complaints in relation to eight cases he presided over, after he was accused of sympathising with protesters by acquitting most of the defendants in the cases that he handled, and passing lenient sentences on those convicted.

However, Chief Magistrate So concluded earlier this month that most of Ho’s rulings reflected neither political bias nor perception of bias, and dismissed complaints for six of those cases. Complaints for the other two cases were set aside until the conclusion of the proceedings.


Category: Hong Kong

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