A second doctor has been charged over allegedly issuing Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificates without following official guidelines, less than a month after charges were laid against another medic accused of the same misconduct.

Annie Choi, 64, appeared at the Tuen Mun Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday. She faces two counts of conspiracy to defraud.

The private clinic of Annie Choi. File photo: Google Maps Street View.

According to a police charge sheet, Choi allegedly conspired with two patients, Mo Hung-san and Chiu Lin-mui, “to defraud the HKSAR government by dishonestly representing that an assessment was conducted” before she issued jab exemptions to Mo and Chiu on September 3.

Choi was granted bail for $100,000 and will return to court on December 13.

Patrons must have present their vaccine or exemption QR code upon entry to most premises. The premises’ staff are required to verify the QR codes authenticity using another government app. Photo: HK Gov screenshot.

She was among six medical practitioners arrested on suspicion of handing out vaccination exemptions without conducting prior diagnoses last month. A seventh doctor, whose clinic was the target of a police sting operation in March, is believed to have “virtually” signed off on hundreds of vaccination exemption certificates. He is thought to have fled Hong Kong.

The seven doctors stand accused of signing off more than 20,000 exemptions without conducting proper diagnosis, with each costing between HK$350 and HK$5,000.

Legal aid for judicial challenge

Also on Tuesday, Kwok Cheuk-kin, the “king of judicial reviews,” won an appeal against the Legal Aid Department’s decision to reject his legal aid application. Kwok launched a legal challenge against the government’s plan to annul the vaccination exemptions issued by the seven doctors in question, causing their invalidation to be temporarily blocked.

The department earlier said Kwok’s application was rejected because he was not a vaccine exemption certificate holder and thus the issue did not apply to him. Kwok has received three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Kwok Cheuk-kin, nicknamed the “king of judicial review,” outside the High Court on October 11, 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

“[The judge] knew that this was a matter of public interest… When I launched a judicial review over the small house policy, I was not a stakeholder either, but the Legal Aid Department approved my aid application because that was about public interest,” Kwok told reporters outside the High Court after a closed-door hearing that lasted for around an hour.

At a hearing last week, Kwok argued that the government had no legal power to invalidate the exemptions, adding that none of the doctors had been tried, let alone convicted, so the authorities’ move would be “passing a judgement before a hearing.”

Justice Russell Coleman in the end decided to temporarily bar the government from invalidating the medical exemptions concerned, with the next hearing to be held on Thursday.

Judicial reviews are considered by the Court of First Instance and examine the decision-making processes of administrative bodies. Issues under review must be shown to affect the wider public interest.

Emergency Regulation Ordinance

At his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee sidestepped a reporter’s question on whether the government would invoke the power under the Emergency Regulation Ordinance to annul the vaccination exemptions should it lose the judicial review.

Chief Executive John Lee speaks to the press on Oct. 17, 2022. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“As everybody knows this matter has entered legal procedures, I will not comment,” Lee said. “On anti-epidemic policies, the government is trying its very best to control the pandemic, and controlling the pandemic is for the interest of every one… The government of course will act according to the law and will follow up only after the court makes a ruling.”

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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.