Complaints against a Hong Kong judge and a magistrate over their comments made in court while handling protest-related cases were found to be not substantiated, the Judiciary has announced.

District Court Judge Ernest Lin faced complaints after he ordered three people in the public gallery wearing yellow facemasks to change them before they were allowed to continue attending the proceedings. It happened during a case where the defendant pleaded guilty to wounding and unlawful assembly. Yellow is a symbol of the pro-democracy movement.

Ernest Lin
District Court Judge Ernest Lin. File photo: Supplied.

Lin also face complaints over his remarks in another case whereby he said that the journalists who were recording video at the scene of a riot had become part of it. The three defendants in the case pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly.

Following an investigation by the Panel of Judges – which included Court of Appeal Judge Anthea Pang, and Court of First Instance Judges Andrew Chan and Wilson Chan – the claims were found to be unsubstantiated, according to the Judiciary’s response published last Friday.

The panel cited Lin’s reasoning for asking three people to change their masks, where he said that “the court should not be used as a venue for expressing political demands, the yellow face masks worn by the three persons carried a political slogan.”

“The Panel of Judges is of the view that the instructions given by Judge Lin were, in the circumstances, appropriate as the court is not a platform for political campaigns,” the panel’s decision read.

The three judges also ruled that the rights of those people asked to change their facemasks were “fully protected as they could continue to observe the proceedings in the adjacent courtroom if they were not minded to change their masks.”

Another complaint made against Lin’s remarks was also found to be unsubstantiated. Lin was accused of making unreasonable and biased comments while watching a video played in court as evidence, showing the scene of a protest in 2019.

District Court
District Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

According to the transcript of the proceeding’s recording cited in the Judiciary’s response, Lin said that people wearing yellow vests “hindered the victims from leaving” the scene.

“…Besides, in the part that can be seen from the scene, there are many people in yellow vests. As far as I understand, yellow vests, generally speaking, indicate the newspaper industry. However, their standing there became part of the riot. Also, they were in other people’s way, and they hindered the victims from leaving…” Lin said in court.

While Lin was found to not have exhibited any wrongdoing, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung said that the judge “should be reminded accordingly.”

“…the Chief Justice considers that, in general, a judge or a judicial officer should be very slow in court in making any suggestions of serious wrongdoing on the part of anyone who is not before the court and who has not been given an opportunity to explain himself or herself to the court.” the Judiciary’s response read.

‘Room for improvement’

Magistrate Stanley Ho also received a complaint over an arson case.

The magistrate was accused of showing bias after saying in a hearing that “the only person who might be injured was the defendant when being subdued,” the Judiciary’s response published last Friday read.

Ho Chun-yiu
Magistrate Stanley Ho Chun-yiu. File photo: Supplied.

Ho was cleared of any wrongdoing by another Panel of Judges comprised of Court of Appeal Judge Thomas Au, and Court of First Instance Judges Andrew Chan and Wilson Chan, as well as the Chief Justice.

The magistrate’s comments in question were made during a defendant’s mitigation submission. According to the Judiciary, the defence attorney said that, while the case was serious, no one was injured during the incident.

Ho then asked the prosecution whether anyone was injured, which the prosecution confirmed.

”Probably the only person injured was the defendant,” Ho then said, according to the transcript published by the Judiciary, which the prosecution also confirmed. “That is when [he was] being subdued,” said Ho.

Andrew Cheung
Chief Justice Andrew Cheung. File photo: GovHK.

The panel said that, when Ho’s remarks were “read in its proper context,” it showed the magistrate confirming with the prosecutor whether the matters raised by the defence were accurate.

The three judges also said that – while the Court of Appeal allowed an application to review the sentencing in the case – it did not find Ho to be biased.

“The Panel of Judges is also of the view that at the hearing, the Magistrate had not expressed any view on the acts upon which the defendant’s conviction was based which was inappropriate or indicates a political inclination,” the Judiciary’s response read.

Cheung said that Ho had “room for improvement” when handling the case in court, but also concluded that the complaint was unsubstantiated.

“Arising from this complaint, the Magistrate will be reminded to be more careful in court to avoid making any remarks that are unnecessary or irrelevant to the issues before the court, particularly those which might give rise to any unnecessary perception of partiality in his judicial work,” the chief justice’s decision read.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.