The High Court has granted a request by Causeway Bay’s Times Square shopping mall to temporarily ban buskers from performing at the open space on its ground floor.

Judge Godfrey Lam Wan-ho said on Friday that the open-air piazza was available for “passive recreation” uses, but the public must not block passageways, cause noise or disturb order.

City Echo
Buskers performing at the Times Square. Photo: City Echo, via Facebook.

Times Square sued busker Jay Lee Kwun-kit, who runs JL Music, and other unnamed performers last week, asking that they compensate the mall for financial losses suffered because of the performers’ obstructive and noisy activity.

The piazza on the ground level of Times Square is located in the heart of Causeway Bay and measures 32,482 square feet. Despite it being private property, its 1992 deed specified that the space would allow for “pedestrian passage and passive recreation.”

The case has not yet been scheduled for a hearing and, in the meantime, Times Square applied for interim injunctions last Thursday to prevent the buskers from performing on its premises.

Lam granted the temporary injunction on Friday, saying that the mall had a prima facie case against the buskers. The ban will stay in effect until the hearing concludes.

High court
The High Court. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lawyers for Times Square argued that the case hinged on the definition of “passive recreation.” Barrister Jin Pao said that the definition depends on the activity’s nature and its effect on surroundings.

Lam accepted that there was evidence to show multiple performances taking place from August to October this year, which involved sound amplifiers and musical instruments. The noise level four metres away from the performers would reach 90 decibels or above, the court heard.

Lam added that the rights of buskers must be balanced against the property rights of Times Square, and the rights of the general public to use the piazza.

Lee said on Friday that he planned to contest the case. He said he had started performing there since 2012, and questioned why legal action was only taken now.

“Since the start of August, [Times Square] posted a copy of the deed at the spot where we usually perform. And every time we perform, security guards come and tell us this was private property and ask us to leave,” Lee told RTHK.

Mong Kok pedestrian zone crowds
The Mong Kok pedestrian zone, now closed. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Lee said that the recent development may be due to the closure of the Sai Yeung Choi Street pedestrian area in Mong Kok, which forced some performers to relocate to Causeway Bay. The ban may cause a chilling effect among buskers performing in other public spaces, he added.

Lee said he planned to meet with other buskers to further negotiate with Times Square, but he has made a legal decision not to perform at the piazza for the time being.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.