Hong Kong Lawyer’s Jail Sentence Overturned: Court Grants Community Service Order in Obstruction Case

HONG KONG (AP) — A lawyer in Hong Kong has successfully appealed against his jail sentence for obstructing a police officer outside a court during a national security case three years ago. The High Court replaced Leo Yau Lut-pong’s original seven-day sentence with a 160-hour community service order. The appeal was granted after it was found that the trial magistrate had wrongly applied the law in rejecting Yau’s plea for leniency. However, a separate appeal against his conviction for willful obstruction was dismissed.

Yau, who works for Bond Ng Solicitors, had ignored a police sergeant’s request to show his identity card and legal credentials as he was intercepted outside West Kowloon Court on March 1, 2021. Yau had represented some of the 47 opposition politicians and activists who were charged with conspiracy to subvert state power under the Beijing-imposed national security law. This charge was in relation to an unofficial legislative primary election in July 2020.

During the marathon hearing on March 1, which lasted from afternoon until early the next day, four of the accused were sent to the hospital due to fatigue. The police had cordoned off the court’s entrance in the evening and allowed only those involved in the case to enter.

In the written verdict, Mr Justice Johnny Chan Jong-herng stated that the police’s decision to cordon off the area was “fairly cautious but reasonable,” considering the public interest in the case and the protests outside the building on the day of the hearing. Chan also found sufficient evidence to conclude that Yau did not genuinely believe the police lacked the authority to seal off the area and demand identification documents.

Magistrate Andy Cheng Lim-chi had initially refused a pre-sentencing report’s recommendation of a community service order, citing Yau’s superficial remorse. However, the judge noted Yau’s admission to his reckless behavior in the report, indicating his remorse. The judge also considered the possibility that Yau had little rest due to his long working hours on that day.

Obstructing a police officer is punishable by up to two years in prison under the Offences against the Person Ordinance.

Overall, the High Court’s decision to replace Yau’s jail sentence with community service highlights the complex legal landscape in Hong Kong and the ongoing tensions surrounding the national security law.