A lawyers group has urged Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng to review her department’s decision not to seek independent legal advice over the corruption allegations facing ex-Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying.
The call came after Cheng’s Department of Justice (DoJ) announced its decision to drop its case against Leung earlier this month, citing insufficient evidence. The department also said it did not seek outside legal advice in making the decision.
Leung came under fire for receiving HK$50 million from the Australian firm UGL while serving as Hong Kong’s chief executive, and for failing to disclose it until a media exposé in 2014. He has denied any wrongdoing, and now serves as a Chinese state leader.
More than two weeks after the DoJ announcement, Cheng said she would not explain her department’s prosecutorial decision. She also defended the DoJ’s move not to seek independent legal advice, saying that “unless the case involves a member of the DoJ, outside counsel would not be engaged.”
The Progressive Lawyers Group said in a statement on Monday that Cheng’s represented “a departure from the DoJ’s longstanding policy, which is dangerous as it would undermine public perceptions of the impartiality and trustworthiness of the DOJ and reduce public confidence in the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
The group said the DoJ had previously sought legal advice from outside counsel over whether to prosecute high-ranking government officials, such as former chief executive Donald Tsang, ex-financial chief Anthony Leung and former non-official member of the Executive Council Franklin Lam.
It expressed concern as to whether the DoJ’s decision would set a “precedent for excusing the prosecution of government officials in the future on a selective basis.”
“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,” it said in a statement on December 21.
Both lawyers’ groups said that seeking outside legal advice is desirable for maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the DoJ’s decision-making process.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Friday that the decision to not seek outside legal advice is “not incomprehensible.” She dismissed speculation that the prosecutorial decision was politically motivated or biased, because “there is no conflict of interest involved between Cheng and Leung.”
Lam expressed hope that the DOJ’s decision would put an end to the long-standing corruption controversy concerning Leung – whom she worked under as chief secretary in the previous administration.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said earlier that his party would file a legal challenge against the prosecutors behind the decision if the DOJ fails to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why it decided not to pursue Leung’s case.