Hong Kong’s longest-serving Director of Public Prosecutions has blasted new figures which show just 50.3 per cent of all cases were successfully prosecuted by magistrates in 2014.

Grenville Cross, the city’s DPP from 1997 until 2009, said the conviction rate was “shockingly low”.

Cross told Apple Daily that fundamental reforms were needed to boost the number of successful prosecutions. In 2013 just 47 per cent of cases heard by magistrates led to a conviction.

Grenville Cross.

While Cross accepted that the low figure may not solely be a result of poor prosecution efforts – other hindrances such as lost statements or key witnesses forgetting their evidence may also play a part – he said action needed to be taken to improve the conviction rate.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung. Photo: GovHK.

Cross called on Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, Secretary for Justice, to ensure high standards within magistrate courts, adding that the current practice of “outsourcing cases to lawyers who have just entered practice” needed to be changed.

He also said magistrates courts needed to review their habit of acting “without seeking advice from the Department of Justice”, and advised prosecutors to seek legal advice before taking on cases, as is standard practice in the UK.

Cross was admitted to the Bar of England and Wales in 1974, and joined the Hong Kong Attorney General’s Chambers – now the Department of Justice – as Queen’s Counsel in 1978.

Prosecution statistics of the Umbrella Movement court cases. Photo: Stand News.

While the overall conviction rate for magistrates in 2014 stands at 50.3 per cent, it has been much lower in court cases relating to the Umbrella Movement. Just 29.8 per cent of 67 cases relating to the movement were successfully prosecuted, Stand News reported. The news site said the Department of Justice may have chosen to withdraw charges due to a lack of evidence from the police.

Paul Benedict Lee

Paul Benedict Lee is an undergraduate law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Paul has previously contributed to HK Magazine and Radio Television Hong Kong, covering issues ranging from local heritage conservation to arts features. He has also worked as a legal intern at local human rights firm Daly & Associates.