Hong Kong Magistrate Gary Lam Tsz-kan will be reassigned to the Obscene Articles Tribunal next month, amid criticism by Chinese state media and public complaints against his rulings over protest-related cases.

The judiciary confirmed with local media on Tuesday that Lam – a permanent magistrate at the West Kowloon Court – will take up a new post on November 2. He will be responsible for determining whether an article submitted is obscene or indecent, or its publication is intended for the public good.

Gary Lam Tsz-kan
Gary Lam Tsz-kan.

The judiciary told local media that the transfer was made based on “operational needs.” Magistrates are often reassigned to different courts and tribunals, it said, adding that the arrangement would help the magistrates gain “judicial experience.”

“Regarding complaints related to Magistrate Gary Lam Tsz-kan, the judiciary will handle them based on the established mechanism,” the judiciary said in a reply to Apple Dailys enquiries.

Last month, Beijing-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao accused Lam of bias in an editorial, saying the city’s judiciary should be reformed to tackle the “ridiculous rulings” by “yellow judges.” The colour yellow is used to identify supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, while the colour blue is associated with the pro-Beijing. pro-government and pro-police faction.

The Ta Kung Pao article cited Lam’s ruling in a case that involved four men, who were charged with assaulting a plainclothes officer after a pro-democracy march on New Year’s Day. The newspaper said it was “eye-opening” to see Lam acquitted two “main suspects,” while the other two who were “on the look out” were found guilty.

January 1, 2020 protest
A pro-democracy march held on January 1, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

“What’s more shocking is that the judge let the main suspects off the hook because the victim’s memory was impaired… the judge also said the officer had ‘exaggerated’ his statement,” the article read.

It added: “It is often seen that the court delivers unfair judgements over cases related to the violent unrest, but the ruling this time still refreshed people’s understanding of how a yellow judge would defend the defendant to exonerate them.”

Last Thursday, the judiciary dismissed complaints against another Magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu, who was also lambasted by Chinese state media as being biased towards demonstrators when handling cases linked to the anti-extradition bill protests. The judiciary found the complaints unsubstantiated and said Ho did not make any remark that showed a political inclination, or indicate an apparent bias against police officers.

The former Eastern Court magistrate has stopped hearing criminal cases since September 18, as he was appointed in July as the temporary deputy registrar of the High Court. The judiciary rejected rumours that the appointment related to the complaints received, saying his appointment was made for “normal operational purposes.”

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.