Hong Kong prosecutors should have sought independent legal advice before dropping their case against former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, the Bar Association said on Friday.
The organisation of top lawyers said in a statement that the case “represents a departure from past convention” as the Department of Justice did not seek outside advice.
“The departure from the commendable and well-recognised convention… raises justifiable doubts as to whether the decision in question was reached free from any bias or political considerations,” the statement said.
Last week, the DoJ said it did not have sufficient evidence to charge Leung for corruption and misconduct in public office.
Leung was criticised for receiving HK$50 million from the Australian firm UGL during his tenure as Hong Kong’s leader, and for failing to disclose it until a media exposé in 2014.
The non-compete and non-poach payments from UGL were received in 2012 and 2013, after the Australian engineering firm acquired British firm DTZ. Leung was DTZ’s director in 2011, before he ran for the role of chief executive. He has denied wrongdoing.
The DoJ’s decision followed a four-year investigation into Leung conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
On Friday, the Bar Association joined a growing list of public figures – including pro-democracy lawmakers, a former top prosecutor and the chair of ICAC’s advisory committee – who were criticising the move.
Critics took issue with the brevity of the DoJ’s document in which the decision is explained. It is two pages long and short on details.
The Bar Association urged the department to “review its decision after obtaining independent counsel’s advice” so as to allay public concerns.
The statement added that it was important to dispel doubts about political influence, as Leung is currently the vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Both the chief executive and the chief secretary have said that the Secretary for Justice, Teresa Cheng, may give more details on the case.
“I believe the DoJ has heard opinions from the public. It will consider how to give additional comments, and will respond at an appropriate time,” Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said on Tuesday.
A DoJ spokesperson said Cheng was on leave and would return on December 27.
Kwok Cheuk-kin, known as the “king of judicial review,” filed a legal challenge against the prosecutor’s decision but withdrew it on Thursday.
Kwok said that the government had taken advantage of his application to dodge questions. The day before, the DoJ had stopped giving responses on the incident, citing “ongoing legal proceedings.”
If Cheng did not end up giving a satisfactory explanation, he would file the application again, Kwok said.
Aside from Kwok, the Democratic Party has also discussed the possibility of a legal challenge.
A protest march is planned for Sunday 2pm. Participants will march from Chater Garden in Central to Cheng’s office.