A procedural blunder has cost the Department of Justice nearly HK$3 million and a premature defeat in its case against 17 protesters from last year’s pro-democracy Occupy movement.

The High Court ruled against the government over 17 people charged with criminal contempt of court for violating an injunction order on the Occupy protest site in Mong Kok last November. The ruling on Tuesday morning came after prosecutors failed to hand in a relevant document to the court in time, violating court rules.

This means the government has to pay legal costs for both sides after losing the case. The costs amounted to about HK$3 million, according to Hong Kong Economic Times.

high court
The High Court. Photo: Daryl Chapman via Flickr.

The Department of Justice was granted permission to proceed with the case in March. According to High Court rules, plaintiffs are required to hand in an “enter for hearing” notice to the court within 14 days after receiving the permission, otherwise the permission will be voided.

The department applied to the court to extend the deadline on Tuesday but was rejected.

Prosecutors may have “forgotten” to hand in the notice as they were dealing with many cases at the same time, a lawyer presenting the government told the court on Tuesday, reported the newspaper.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the department will study the ruling and consider whether to appeal.

Yuen added the department will bear responsibilities for wasting taxpayers’ money if official negligence was found to be the cause of the premature defeat.

The 17 defendants were charged for allegedly obstructing bailiffs’ effort to clear protesters’ barricades on Argyle Street in Mong Kok on November 25. Another batch of 20 people, who were accused of obstructing clearance on Nathan Road the next day, will stand trial in November. They include student leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum.

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.