Press Release

Statement By Secretary for Justice

2 February 1999

Human Rights Monitor welcomes the statement given today by the Secretary for Justice, Ms Elsie Leung, about her reasons for not prosecuting Sally Aw Sian in connection with the fraudulent inflation of the circulation figures of the Hong Kong Standard. We are pleased that the statement goes into detail about the reasons, including reasons relating to adequacy of the evidence. We support the general policy that details of individual prosecution cases should be confidential, but this case was clearly exceptional because of the very widespread public concern that had arisen about whether the proper rules about prosecution decisions had been applied. That was why we called for a statement when Ms Aw's 3 former employees were convicted of fraud on 20 January.

We disagree with Ms Leung's suggestion that it was irresponsible for details of Ms Aw's interview with the ICAC to have been disclosed to the media. The non-prosecution had become a matter of legitimate public concern long before the disclosure of the details of the interview.

We also disagree fundamentally with the "public interest" reasons given by Ms Leung, in addition to her reasons relating to lack of evidence. We know of no other case where the fact that a person is a chairman of an important company which might perhaps collapse if she was prosecuted has been treated as a reason for not prosecuting. Taking decisions on these grounds means that rich tycoons escape prosecution for crimes for which other people go to prison. It is erodes the rule of law and is plainly wrong. We note Ms Leung's statement that this public interest factor may now be less significant, and that she does not rule out prosecution in this case if additional evidence came to light. However the fact that these inappropriate reasons were relied on at all is disturbing.

We hope that in future there will be no cases where the decision whether to prosecute a person for serious crime is affected by the fact that they are a major employer or a leading businessperson whose companies might collapse in consequence. We call on the Government to amend its guidelines to prosecutors to make it clear that these are not legitimate factors to consider in deciding on prosecutions.

1999 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor