People who visit the West Kowloon Law Courts Building will soon be subject to security checks involving metal detectors and x-ray scanners, the Judiciary has said. The new arrangement came after threatening letters containing powder were delivered to the courthouse twice last month.

The Judiciary said on Wednesday that users of the court building in Sham Shui Po will be required to undergo body screening with metal detectors and have their personal belongings inspected via x-ray baggage scanners before they may access the facilities inside. People will not be allowed to bring in water or other drinks.

West Kowloon Magistrates Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Frequent court users such as legal representatives and journalists will line up in a separate queue from the general public for inspection. Similar screening procedures are currently adopted at the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal.

The new security arrangement will take effect next Saturday and the controlled areas will cover the courtrooms, the registries, the accounts office, the information centre, office areas and other facilities located on the 1/F to 11/F of the building. Drinking water will be provided in those areas.

“The security screening procedures are intended to prevent prohibited items, such as weapons, knives, scissors, water and drinks from being brought into court premises,” a spokesperson for the Judiciary said in a press release.

Last month, the West Kowloon courthouse reported that it had received two intimidating letters that contained suspicious powder. Local media cited sources as saying they were addressed to Deputy District Judge Kathie Cheung, who jailed five Chinese University students in October for nearly five years for rioting on the Sha Tin campus during the 2019 protests.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
Staff from the Fire Services Department deployed on November 16, 2021 when the West Kowloon Law Courts Building reported receiving a suspicious letter containing powder. Photo: Stand News.

According to local media, the letter delivered on November 11 contained a written message with profanity and a small envelope carrying white powder – later confirmed to be caustic soda – but no dangerous substances. Another threatening letter with similar content was sent to the court building on November 16, when the Shatin Magistrates’ Courts also reported a suspicious letter.

The incidents forced part of the complex to be closed temporarily as police evacuated dozens of people. Court proceedings were not affected and police listed the cases as criminal intimidation.

The Judiciary. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The letters were tantamount to “exerting improper pressure” on judges and judicial officers, the Judiciary said following the incidents, adding that they represented a “direct challenge to the rule of law.” The Department of Justice said intimidation of judges “will never be tolerated.”

Opened in May 2017, the West Kowloon Law Courts Building is known for housing a “mega court” to accommodate a large number of court attendees. It has heard high-profile cases under the national security law, such as the subversion case involving 47 democrats and the foreign collusion case linked to the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.