Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee will not have to pay a penalty for breaching electoral rules by failing to submit documents regarding advertisements on time, the High Court has ruled.

Chief Executive-elect John Lee. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In June, the then chief executive-elect admitted he had failed to submit copies of three consent forms within one working day after the advertisements were published – as stipulated in electoral regulations. Lee filed a writ to the High Court, asking to be exempted from the requirement and to “be relieved from the penalties.”

The documents in question were consent of support forms signed in April by Hong Kong’s women’s table tennis team coach Li Ching, lawmaker Nelson Lam and artist Alex Fong. A consent form is needed for a candidate to run an election advertisement with another individual’s photo.

Li Ching’s Consent of Support for John Lee’s election advertisement. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lee was the only candidate who ran in the small-circle election, held under a revamped political system decreed by Beijing.

The former senior police officer secured 1,416 votes in support of his candidacy – and eight “not support” ballots – from the government-vetted Election Committee. He was inaugurated by state leader Xi Jinping on July 1, the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover.

‘No bad faith’

In a 13-page judgement on Thursday, Judge Queeny Au-Yeung said she granted Lee the relief from paying the penalty because she believed the non-compliance was caused by “inadvertence.”

“The inadvertence was not gross as to call in doubt the good faith of Mr Lee or the Campaign Office,” Au-Yeung wrote, “There was no bad faith shown. No special advantage was gained by Mr Lee.”

John Lee’s election advertisement with artist Alex Fong. Photo: John Lee 2022, via Facebook.

The judge said the future chief executive was unaware of the non-compliance. The judgement attributed the delayed submission of the consent forms to the lack of communication between his campaign office and the public relations contractors, tight timeframes, limited manpower and a heavy workload.

Au-Yeung said that before the non-compliance was discovered, some 800 consent forms had already been processed without any breach of the law. “There was no reason to suggest that the Campaign Office singled out the 3 Consent of Support Forms for special treatment.”

After the non-compliance was discovered, Lee “immediately explained” to the media the next day, Au-Yeung said. He also “openly admitted” there was room for improvement and prompted action to rectify the issue.

The chief executive originally asked the court to waive his costs in making the application. His lawyer on Thursday, however, told the court Lee has agreed to pay the court fees. Au-Yeung ordered him to pay HK$64,289.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.