The government has spent HK$230,000 on legal advice over its barring of pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow from the 2018 by-election race. Meanwhile, a total of HK$9 million of taxpayers’ money was racked up in legal costs over the disqualification of six lawmakers.

The costs were revealed by the government on Thursday in response to written questions raised by members of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee.

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. Photo: In-Media.

Lawmaker Dennis Kwok enquired about the details of the Department of Justice seeking private counsel for legal advice over the candidacy of Demosisto’s Agnes Chow. Chow was barred from standing in the March Legislative Council by-elections over her party’s advocacy of self-determination.

The controversial decision was made by returning officer Anne Teng, but the Department of Justice provided advice on the matter. Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng had also earlier admitted to being personally involved.

The Department’s controlling officer replied saying that they could not disclose the identity of the counsel without their consent due to privacy concerns, and the details were covered by legal professional privilege. The department added that they sought assistance from outside experts over the by-elections and the total briefing out expenses involved were HK$230,000.

Disqualification cases

The Department of Justice also said that it spent a total of HK$2.06 million on briefing two local counsels on the disqualification of four pro-democracy legislators in 2017 – namely Nathan Law, Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu – and HK$4.59 million on two other lawmakers, Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Council Secretariat said in a reply to a question from lawmaker Eddie Chu that the total expenditure for legal proceedings relating to the six lawmakers amounted to HK$1.71 million, while the costs of seeking external legal advice over the validity of their Legislative Council oaths totalled HK$606,000.

Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching
Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching during their oath-taking. Photo: LegCo.

As for legal advice on recovering remuneration and operating expenses by the six lawmakers, the Legislative Council spent HK$380,000 in total.

The oath-taking cases were triggered when Yau and Leung protested during their oath-taking ceremonies in October 2016, displaying “Hong Kong is not China” flags and changing the wording of their oaths in a way some deemed insulting to Chinese people.

The Chinese national legislature then issued a controversial retroactive legal interpretation setting out the requirements for oath-taking and standing for election. The following year, four more lawmakers were unseated from the legislature.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.