A Hong Kong judge who was banned from presiding over 2019-protest-related cases after he sympathised with a defendant who attacked people near a pro-democracy message board wall has been handed a reprieve by his judiciary bosses.
The judiciary told HKFP on Friday the decision was made in light of Kwok’s expertise and the court’s heavy load of protest-related cases.
Kwok Wai-kin was banned from adjudicating protest-related cases last April after he said a defendant who stabbed three people near a Lennon Wall in August 2019 had made an “involuntary sacrifice” due to the city-wide protests.
“If there had not been such unusual unrest in Hong Kong, the mishap would not have happened,” Kwok had said in his sentencing remarks at the time.
The judiciary removed Kwok from protest-related cases three days later, citing “disputes over the reason behind the sentencing of a case.” It came after pro-democracy activists called on the public to lodge complaints against the judge.
Kwok’s comments also prompted a statement from then-chief justice Geoffrey Ma, who said judges should refrain from expressing political opinions in their courtrooms.
Tony Hung, the defendant in the case, had pleaded guilty to wounding with intent and was jailed for just under four years by Kwok – a reduction from the starting point of six years behind bars.
The decision to lift the ban has been approved by Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, the judiciary said on Friday.
The judiciary said Chief District Judge Justin Ko made the decision in view of Kwok’s “expertise and experience” and his work performance over the past year.
“The chief judge will always consider all relevant factors, including the nature of the cases to be tried, the judge’s background, areas of legal expertise, and whether the judge is available to participate in the hearing,” a spokesperson told HKFP in a statement on Friday.
The judiciary also took into consideration the District Court’s manpower and the schedules of other judges.
The statement added that over 300 protest-related cases have been assigned to the District Court, the majority of which are pending.
Protests erupted in June 2019 over a now-axed extradition bill that would have exposed Hongkongers to China’s opaque legal system. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.