A private prosecution stemming from anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year that unexpectedly drew the involvement of the justice minister took another unusual twist after the defendant moved to recoup his legal fees, although who is expected to pay remains unclear.
The case centres on taxi driver Henry Cheng Kwok-chuen, who has been accused of ploughing his vehicle into a group of protesters during a rally in Sham Shui Po on October 6. Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung initiated his private prosecution in February after authorities declined to press charges and Eastern Court issued a summons over one count of dangerous driving.
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But on Thursday it was revealed Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah had taken the rare step of intervening in the case, informing Hui the Department of Justice (DOJ) would exercise its power to end the case. The move came just two days after she wrote to Hui saying she would throw out his attempt to privately prosecute a policeman who shot 21-year-old protester Chow Pak-kwan, during a confrontation in Sai Wan Ho last year.
The law firm representing Henry Cheng is now seeking HK$82,000 (US$10,600) to cover its expenses, but its not clear whether Hui or the department will be responsible for the bill.
K.C Ho & Fong, which counts pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu as a senior partner, wrote to Hui’s lawyer, Victor Yeung Sui-yin, informing him of its intention to pursue the payment, according to the letter seen by the Post on Saturday.
“We would invite the court to grant a cost order in favour of the defendant for the reason that this summons should never have been taken out by the applicant at all,” the letter said.
The law firm’s bill was for 11.5 hours of work on conferences, legal documents and correspondence with the department and court, with Ho charging HK$9,400 per hour and assistant solicitor Holly Sui Hoi-ling charging HK$3,600. A court hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Yeung noted the letter had not specifically spelled out which party was being asked to pay. While Hui brought the case, the DOJ would have taken it over by Monday, Yeung said.
In criminal cases, a defendant is normally only compensated for legal fees when prosecutors lose at trial or the case is dropped after the judge finds the defendant has not brought suspicion upon himself The matter is complicated by the secretary for justice seeking to end the proceeding. “But if it isn’t a prima facie case, the magistrate would not have granted the summons in the first place,” Yeung said.
Solicitor Jonathan Man Ho-ching, a criminal law specialist, described the situation as “extremely rare”.
He believed it would be up to the magistrate to decide how the legal fee would be split between Hui and the DOJ if he ended up finding in favour of the driver.
Yet, the driver was far from having won his case, Man said, adding Hui could also file a claim against the DOJ for terminating the case. The Post has reached out to the DOJ for comment.
In a previous interview with the Post, Cheng said he had “a clear conscience” and no idea how the car lost control.
A 23-year-old woman reportedly suffered serious fractures to both legs after the taxi mounted the pavement outside the Cheung Sha Wan government offices before smashing into a shop front.
Vigilantes beat up Henry Cheng, leaving him with fractured ribs and four stitches to his head.
He was never charged, while two men at the scene were arrested on suspicion of rioting and later released on bail.