The Hong Kong judiciary has dismissed complaints against the judicial conduct of Magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu over his rulings of six protest-related cases. This came after pro-Beijing figures and Chinese state media accused Ho of bias and letting pro-democracy protesters “off the hook.”
In a statement released on Thursday, the judiciary said Chief Magistrate Victor So concluded the complaints from members of the public against six cases adjudicated by Ho were unsubstantiated.
So reviewed the audio-recording transcript of the reasons for verdict and sentence, delivered by the former Eastern Court magistrate, as well as other parts of the proceedings in the cases concerned. The transcripts were uploaded to the judiciary’s website.
One of the cases involved 34-year-old engineer Chan Man-ho, who was acquitted by Ho of “possessing anything with intent to destroy or damage property” in August. Police found him carrying two cans of spray paint and stained gloves during a protest on November 2 last year.
Some complaints alleged Ho did not feel “safe” relying on evidence submitted by the police witness and therefore cleared the defendant of the charge. But the chief magistrate said Ho had not questioned or commented on the credibility of the prosecution witness in his verdict.
“The Magistrate also did not make any remark that indicates a personal or political inclination, or gives rise to an apparent bias against police officers,” the statement read.
In another case where Ho found Eastern District Councillor Jocelyn Chau and her assistant not guilty of assaulting police, the former magistrate received complaints after he criticised police who testified as “covering one lie with another lie.” Ho described the officers as unreliable witnesses and said they were giving statements as if they were in a “parallel universe.”
The judiciary said Ho had examined the evidence by two witnesses from the force, including the discrepancies between their testimonies in court, police records, witness statements and video evidence. Ho also looked at the inherent probabilities of the evidence and the explanations given under cross-examinations before reaching his verdict, it said.
“The Magistrate was entitled to comment and make findings on the credibility of the witnesses on the basis of the evidence before him,” the judiciary wrote.
So said his conclusion was consistent with the Department of Justice (DoJ), which had not challenged the six rulings by Ho as inadequate, wrong or biased.
He added the chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal agreed with him: “In accordance with the principle of judicial independence, the Chief Magistrate in his administrative capacity would not, and it would be inappropriate, to interfere with any judicial decisions.”
The judiciary has yet to follow up on complaints against two other cases heard by Ho, pending a review filed by the DoJ of the sentencing in those cases.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat was among those who complained against Ho. She submitted a letter to Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma last month demanding the magistrate be removed from handling cases linked to the anti-extradition bill protests.
Beijing-owned newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po have also openly criticised Ho, saying his acquittal of “black violence defendants” was a “humiliation” to the city’s judicial system.
“It is another scene of ‘police making arrests, the judge letting people off the hook’… when [Ho] makes the verdict, it seems he forgot his role as the judge, and became the defence lawyer,” an editorial by Ta Kung Pao on September 10 read.
In July, Ho was appointed as a temporary deputy registrar of the High Court, where he would be responsible for listing criminal cases. The judiciary rebuffed rumours that the posting – which began on September 18 and would last until June 17, 2021 – was connected to complaints Ho received.
“Magistrate Ho’s posting is made for normal operational purposes,” the judiciary said in a statement on September 8.