I suppose the Secretary for Justice must be an intelligent lady with a fine knowledge of the law and some common sense. She had a successful career going on before taking up the public post. Alas, exposure to the upper reaches of public administration has taken its toll. She is now as delusional as the others.

Here we have the way one newspaper reported Ms Cheng Yeuk-wah’s long-awaited LegCo performance on the decision not to prosecute C. Y. Leung: During a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, Cheng listed scenarios in which the Department of Justice may seek external legal advice. One such scenario would be when there is a possible perception of bias or issues of conflict of interest, Cheng said. “In this case, that does not apply,” she added.

Leung Chun-ying. Photo: GovHK.

You what? Has she not been reading the newspapers? I do not ask you to believe, gentle reader, that there was or was not bias involved, a question on which, like most of us, I know only what emerges in the news media.
But it is surely plain to the meanest intelligence that the reason why so many people are interested in why Mr Leung was not prosecuted is because of the obvious possibility that the decision was influenced by the fact that he was the Chief Executive at the time of the alleged offence, and is still the holder of a senior state sinecure in Beijing.

This is, in the ordinary and natural meaning of the word, a form of bias.

Let us consider a homely and historic example. Many years ago, when Hong Kong was still a colony, a policeman stopped a foreigner who was driving in Central and asked to see his driving licence, as policemen do.
The foreigner produced a UK driving licence. The policeman asked him how long he had been in Hong Kong. People who moved from the UK to Hong Kong in those days were allowed to use their UK licence for a year, after which they were required to get a local one. And our foreigner had exceeded the year. So he no longer had a valid licence.

It also turned out that the foreign gentleman was the Attorney General, which was what they called the Secretary for Justice in those days. I have always wondered what happened to that particular policeman afterwards. Did he become a Legend in his Own Lifetime? Or was he drummed out of the Force for excessive zeal?

But I digress. The important point here is that the offence involved was trivial. Nevertheless anyone in the Legal Department – as it was then called – contemplating the matter would have been considering the merits of prosecuting his own boss. So an outside lawyer was recruited, and duly recommended prosecution. The Attorney General was convicted of driving without a valid licence and paid a small fine.

File photo: inmediahk.net.

Now let us come back to more recent times and imagine the situation of a person in what we now hilariously call the Department of Justice contemplating the merits of a case starring Mr C.Y. Leung. This legal eagle would be considering the idea of prosecuting his boss’s boss.

At best, assuming that the investigation had managed to consume the entirety of Mr Leung’s term of office, he would be considering the prosecution of his boss’s ex-boss, now a big if powerless wheel in the nation’s capital.
In other words, this is a textbook case of an occurrence where a “possible perception of bias” arises.

After all, it is not disputed that Mr Leung took the money. Nor is it disputed that he did not declare it. It appears that Mr Leung may have been following legal advice, but legal advice is not infallible and ignorance of the law is no excuse. And if that advice came from the very department which was later landed with the question of whether Mr Leung should be prosecuted… Well, just how trusting does Ms Cheng expect us to be?

Teresa Cheng. Photo: Apple Daily.

I am quite prepared to believe that anyone who assessed the evidence in detail and considered it in the light of the applicable law would decide that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Leung, or indeed perhaps that Mr Leung was as innocent as a new-born babe.

I find it very surprising, though, that anyone who has followed this sage can stand up in public and say that in this case there is no possible perception of bias. It appears that the case of Ms Cheng herself (involving possibly illegal structures on her house) was not passed to an outside lawyer either.

Times have changed.


Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.