A magistrate has ruled that former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung cannot be charged with contempt after he took several documents from a Hong Kong government official at a legislative meeting in 2016.

Magistrate Ada Yim ruled on Monday that the “contempt” provision within the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance did not apply to lawmakers. Leung was a lawmaker when the incident occurred.

During a meeting on the Wang Chau housing controversy in November 2016, the then-legislator took a folder of documents placed on a bench by then-under secretary for development Eric Ma. He was criticising Ma for not publicising the documents, and passed the folder to fellow pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu for examination.

Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung
“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung. File Photo: In-Media.

Ma then filed a report about the incident to the police. Six months later, Leung received a police summons, accusing him of violating the contempt provision within the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.

The Ordinance was originally established to protect lawmakers’ powers.

Leung was disqualified as a lawmaker in July 2017 over protests he made during his oath of office. But his lawyer Senior Counsel Margaret Ng argued that the provision did not apply to Leung – a lawmaker when the incident occurred.

Freedom of speech

Yim wrote in the judgment that section 3 of the law protected freedom of speech and debate in the Legislative Council, to ensure that the legislature can perform its duties effectively: “Elected representatives must be able to discuss any matter freely.”

She also wrote that section 4 stated that lawmakers should not be charged over words spoken before the Council or a committee. She ruled that, even if the protection of speech may not be applicable in some cases, any chilling effect should be reduced to a minimal level.

Yim said that there are criminal laws to regulate assault, threatening acts or thievery, whilst Articles 75 and 79 of the Basic Law regulate lawmakers’ actions. She thus ruled that the contempt provision in the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance did not apply to lawmakers.

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The prosecution said it will tell the court whether it will retract the charges or appeal on March 16, as it had yet to come to a decision on Monday.

The Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance criminalises the creation of, or participation in, any disturbance which interrupts or is likely to interrupt the proceedings of the legislature.

Convicted offenders could be punished with a maximum fine of HK$10,000 and imprisonment for 12 months.

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Kris Cheng

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.