Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that a group of senior international lawyers have misunderstood Hong Kong’s legal system after they published a joint letter about the jailing of pro-democracy Occupy protests activists Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law.

The 12 lawyers – from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Malaysia – stated that the city’s Public Order Ordinance violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the city is a signatory.

They also said the imprisonments represented “a serious threat to the rule of law and a breach of the principle of ‘double jeopardy’ in Hong Kong.”

Carrie Lam.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said: “The content of this statement clearly reflects that the signatories misunderstood the case, or lacked an understanding of the legal system in Hong Kong.”

Her comment echoed the Department of Justice (DoJ), which sent a lengthy response to HKFP on Monday: “We regret that the contents of the Joint Letter display either a misunderstanding or a lack of understanding of the case in question and the legal system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

The DoJ spokesperson said there was “no question of double jeopardy,” as the Court of Appeal had also taken into account the number of hours of community service already performed by Wong and Law respectively and given discounts.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow. File photo: In-Media.

It said the application for review was instituted within 14 days of the sentences being imposed, in accordance with the law, but not after they had served their original sentences.

“The Joint Letter also completely ignores the point stressed by the Court of Appeal in the Judgment, namely, the defendants were convicted and sentenced not for expressing their political ideas but for the violent conduct involved,” it said. “10 security guards were injured as a result of the violence involved in the incident. No society which truly respects the rule of law would allow use of violence.”

The DoJ said the judgment was made solely by reference to the applicable legal principles and the available evidence, and that no political considerations had been taken into account.

Court of Appeal Judge Wally Yeung gave the Occupy trio ruling.

It further cited a comment made after the judgment by Lord Neuberger, one of the Non-Permanent Judges of the Court of Final Appeal, as saying that judges were independent.

“In short, the HKSAR Judiciary remains truly independent and has displayed very high quality in their discharge of professional duties,” the DoJ spokesman said. “Suggestions such as those contained in the Joint Letter that the judicial independence in the HKSAR are at risk are wholly unjustified.”

“It should also be noted that the Court of Appeal accepted DoJ’s application for review of sentence. This means that DoJ’s application for review of sentence was legally justified, and should have been taken out.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.