The legislature has rejected a motion tabled by a pro-democracy lawmaker to summon Hong Kong’s justice minister to explain why former chief executive Leung Chun-ying was not prosecuted. The pro-Beijing camp voted down the motion.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, a barrister himself, cited provisions in the Basic Law allowing legislators to summon the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng to testify and give evidence.
Last month, Cheng’s Department of Justice decided not to prosecute Leung over a HK$50 million payment he received from Australian firm UGL. UGL bought UK company DTZ, of which Leung was a director before he became the chief executive. Leung received part of the payment when he was in office but did not declare it. He has denied wrongdoing.
The department did not seek outside legal advice before making the decision, unlike in past cases surrounding top officials including former chief executive Donald Tsang and former financial secretary Antony Leung. Pro-democracy lawmakers have been criticising the move, saying that there was potential bias.
In responding to the motion, Cheng said at the legislature on Thursday that Article 63 of the Basic Law stipulated that the Department of Justice will control criminal prosecutions, free from any interference.
“The motion today is tabled exactly in the hope of interfering with prosecutorial work – I hope lawmakers will accept that this is a violation to Article 63. This practice must be prevented,” she said.
Cheng repeated her previous remarks that seeking outside legal advice was not a usual practice, and it was a necessity only when cases were sensitive or involved top officials.
Kwok said the Legislative Council has a responsibility to monitor the Department of Justice’s work: “There is no such thing whereby – because the Department of Justice exercises its power under the Basic Law – then it does not have to care about public participation and public perception,” he said.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, also a solicitor, said there was no law stating that the Department of Justice must seek outside legal advice for some cases.
He criticised the motion as being a political stunt: “They just don’t want to admit defeat,” he said. “Such a stunt is useless. We will vote you out, vote you down.”
The motion received 24 “yes” votes from pro-democracy lawmakers, and 40 “no” votes from pro-Beijing lawmakers. It failed to obtain a majority in both the functional and geographical constituencies.
Cheng will appear at the legislature’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services next Monday to discuss the Department of Justice’s prosecution policy.