Hong Kong court grants injunction forbidding doxxing of judicial officials and their families

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A Hong Kong court on Friday granted an interim injunction to protect judicial officers and their families from doxxing and harassment.

Mr Justice Russell Coleman of the High Court issued an order sought by the secretary for justice, in her official capacity as guardian of public interest, to restrain members of the public from unlawfully doxxing judicial officers – at all levels of the court – as well as their families.

The injunction also targeted acts of “intimidating, molesting, harassing, threatening or pestering” the protected individuals, and included a requirement on those committing the prohibited behaviour to take all necessary steps to withdraw published data from the public domain.

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But the injunction will not prohibit any lawful acts done solely for the purpose of “news activity”, as defined by the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, according to the court documents.

It will remain in effect until November 13 when the High Court takes up the matter again.

Those in breach may find themselves subject to investigation for civil contempt of court, which could result in imprisonment.

Lawyers have broadly welcomed the injunction, but some expressed concern over its scope.

The Post understands the ex-parte application was made in a bid to curtail the increasing harassment of court officers that ramped up last November – a period that coincided with a growing number of protest-related cases heard in courts – out of concern it might influence judicial independence and harm the rule of law.

The application, filed earlier in the day, was the latest move to counter unlawful doxxing, following similar injunctions protecting police officers and barring online incitement of violence.

The latest list of protected individuals included 41 categories of judicial officers, from the chief justice to magistrates, registrars and those presiding over various specialised tribunals.

It is understood that some judicial officers have had their personal information published online in the Reddit-like forum LIHKG or on the messaging app Telegram, and some have received repeated nuisance calls.

Some were also subject to fraudulent bookings, or registered to services such as organ donation.

At least 90 posts demonstrating doxxing behaviour had been published online, a source said.

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Judicial officers have recently received thousands of complaints in relation to various decisions and court cases, prompting the judiciary to introduce new measures to address the public, such as a new website for issuing collective responses to the public’s grievances.

Welcoming the application, the Law Society of Hong Kong said: “Weaponising personal data to pressurise judicial officers in the performance of their judicial duties is to be deplored as an affront to the rule of law and judicial independence.”

Hong Kong Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes said the department’s bid might well be necessary “to protect the independence of judges and magistrates”.

A judiciary spokesman declined to comment.

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Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a barrister by profession, said the temporary ban should deter doxxers from harassing judges and their families, adding she believed the prohibition would not affect people’s rights to comment on court proceedings and judges’ rulings.

“Law enforcement agencies and judicial officers should be protected,” she said. “They should be left with enough room to exercise their duty without undue pressure.”

Opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok, representing the legal sector, urged all members of the public to respect the latest court order, but feared its terms might be too broad and vague.

“I hope that clear guidelines [would] be given, so that members of the public would not breach the injunction inadvertently by way of criticising certain judgments,” Kwok said.

Simon Young Ngai-man, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said an appropriate ban should not prevent people from talking about judges’ background and their professional experience.

“Recent events show the need for such an injunction,” Young said. “However, the scope should not be so wide or vague [so] as to chill legitimate commentary on judges and their decisions.”

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