Cardinal Joseph Zen, barrister Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho and three others will stand trial next month after denying charges over an alleged failure to register a defunct protester relief fund as a society.
The trial is set to involve legal debates on the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, a local court has heard.
Principal Magistrate Ada Yim presided over a pre-trial review hearing at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday for the case involving six defendants linked to the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. The fund provided financial aid and legal support to protesters during the 2019 extradition bill protests.
Former fund trustees Zen, Ng, Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung and ex-legislator Cyd Ho stand accused of failing to apply for local society registration for the fund between July 16, 2019, and October 31, 2021. The sixth defendant was activist Sze Ching-wee, who was the fund’s secretary general before it folded last October. They all pleaded not guilty to the offences in May.
Acting Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (Special Duties) Anthony Chau told Yim on Tuesday that the five-day trial – scheduled between September 19 and 23 – will argue whether the 612 Fund was a society under the Societies Ordinance. The prosecution and the defence will also debate whether the defendants were office-bearers of the fund, he said.
The senior prosecutor said a pre-trial review questionnaire filled out by the defence suggested that the court would hear legal disputes concerning the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. The ordinance provides for the incorporation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provisions as applied to Hong Kong into local laws. The defence has yet to inform the prosecution on their points of argument, Chau said.
Representing the five trustees, Senior Counsel Robert Pang said the defence did not intend to ask the court to omit the Societies Ordinance. Instead, they hoped the court could take into account the constitutional safeguard of the right to associate when interpreting the legislation, he said.
The defence asked the prosecution to provide their opening submission by late August in order to understand their “exact position.” Pang said the 20 box files of documents provided by the prosecutors did not seem to contain evidence relevant to proving the fund was a society or how the defendants were office-bearers.
Pang also revealed that Senior Counsels Gladys Li and Ambrose Ho and barrister Osmond Lam would defend some of the ex-trustees during the actual trial. Sze was represented by barrister Lydia Leung on Tuesday.
Principal magistrate Yim, who usually handles cases at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts, asked the defence and prosecution whether five days would be sufficient for the court to hear the case. Both sides said the scheduled length would be enough, as there will be few disputes over the evidence. Yim decided to reserve an additional two and a half days for the prosecution and defence to make their closing statements.
The court will also allow the trial to be conducted in Chinese, while the closing arguments would be made in English, after senior counsel Pang said most of the authority cases they intended to cite to support their legal arguments would be in English.
The five trustees of the defunct fund were arrested under the Beijing-imposed national security law in May for allegedly colluding with foreign forces. Hui was reportedly the first to be detained when he was intercepted at the Hong Kong International Airport. Cyd Ho was apprehended in prison while serving time for unauthorised assembly in October 2019.
None of them were officially charged.