a group of people around each other: People Power vice-chairman Tam Tak-chi leaves the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre en route to court on Wednesday. Photo: Sam Tsang


© SCMP
People Power vice-chairman Tam Tak-chi leaves the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre en route to court on Wednesday. Photo: Sam Tsang

The first of Hong Kong’s district judges designated to handle national security law proceedings has been tasked with determining if he or a similarly designated counterpart should hear the cases facing opposition activist Tam Tak-chi, who has not been charged under the Beijing-imposed legislation.

Chief District Judge Justin Ko King-sau on Wednesday assigned Stanley Chan Kwong-chi to hear the prosecution’s application to have Tam’s three cases tried by a judge specially tasked with overseeing hearings related to the security law.

Legco exodus, loyalty oaths mark national security law’s fifth month

The 48-year-old vice-chairman of the localist group People Power faces 14 charges at the District Court. Half are tied to the colonial-era offence of sedition, while the others relate to public order or social-distancing rules introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

His defence lawyers have argued the charges were not offences that endangered national security, and have challenged the applicability of the new law, noting that prosecutors have only recently raised the issue after a number of non-designated judges had already handled earlier stages of the three cases.



a man holding a sign: Activist Tam Tak-chi of People Power is facing 14 charges, half of which related to the colonial-era offence of sedition. Photo: Edmond So


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Activist Tam Tak-chi of People Power is facing 14 charges, half of which related to the colonial-era offence of sedition. Photo: Edmond So

They also questioned why a judge with a national security law designation was needed to hear the prosecution’s challenge when a non-designated counterpart would have the same jurisdiction under the District Court Ordinance.

“A non-designated judge is perfectly competent to deal with the application,” defence counsel Philip Dykes SC said.

But acting deputy director of public prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang said his team made the application because the sedition charges constitute offences that compromise national security, saying the speeches Tam was accused of making “clearly fall within the illegal subversive meaning”.

Opposition activist Tam Tak-chi to challenge legality of colonial-era sedition law

Subversion is one of four main categories of offences penalised under Hong Kong’s national security law, which also targets acts of secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Examples of subversive language cited by the prosecutor included the once-ubiquitous protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, as well as the chant “Hong Kong independence (is) the only way out” and calls for the overthrow of the Communist Party.

The prosecutor also observed that the designation is mandatory for cases involving the new law and a non-designated judge would be acting “ultra vires”, or beyond his legal authority, if he or she were assigned to hear the application.

Tam Tak-chi denied bail by Hong Kong’s High Court in sedition case

Chau added that Tam’s cases could still be sent back to a non-designated judge if prosecutors were to fail in their bid to have all proceedings they believe are related to national security law offences handled by designated judges.

“We do not see any unfairness or prejudice that will be caused to the defendant,” the prosecutor added.

Chief District Judge Ko agreed the possibility of ultra vires presented a potential problem.

A ruling in favour of the prosecution by a non-designated judge could be subject to a judicial challenge arguing they lacked the jurisdiction to handle the case in the first place, he said.

On the other hand, if the non-designated judge were to rule in favour of the defence, the prosecution would have grounds to persist in their application for appeal or judicial review.

Tam Tak-chi first person charged under sedition law since city’s return to China

“In my view, it is undesirable to leave a blemish on such an important issue so early in the proceedings, which may come back to haunt the parties in due course,” Ko continued. “I have decided to list the substantive arguments before a designated judge to avoid any potential ultra vires problems.”

Ko also said his decision was not based on an interpretation of the new law, as he was only exercising his administrative function as a listing judge with a duty to ensure cases are brought before the appropriate judges with minimum delay.

“The judge hearing the argument will be free to construe the relevant provisions and decide one way or another,” he said.

The full arguments will be heard by Chan at the District Court on Thursday morning.

More Articles from SCMP

In Japan, Nike ad on racism, bullying sparks debate over foreign firm criticising social mores

Hong Kong airport’s US$1.5 billion bond oversold by 10 times as investors clamour to bet on post Covid-19 travel recovery

US-China relations: Biden says trade-war tariffs to remain in place for now as alliance building comes first

China’s moon mission makes a lunar touchdown, ready for Chang’e 5 to collect rocks and soil

China faces uphill struggle to win over Mekong neighbours

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Source Article