HK should take harder line on violence: Cross

Updated: 2019-11-27 07:25

By Kathy Zhang in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Former prosecutor urges govt to use all means in full-on battle against violence

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government should make no further concessions to violence, but must resist it with all the means at its disposal, the city's former director of public prosecutions said on Tuesday at a legal forum on the ongoing social unrest in Hong Kong.

Grenville Cross, also a senior counsel, told the "Hong Kong's Civil Unrest and Upholding the Rule of Law" forum that clearly, the levels of violence people had witnessed in Hong Kong since June amounted to terrorism. What the rioters did was in line with the criteria of "terrorist acts" given by the United Nations, he added.

HK should take harder line on violence: Cross

According to the UN (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance, enacted in 2002, a terrorist act involves the use or threat of action for the purposes of causing serious violence against a person, or causing serious damage to property, or endangering a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action. The use or threat of action must also be intended to compel the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public. It must also be made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.

During months of social unrest in Hong Kong, police officers were seen being set on fire with gasoline bombs; trains and MTR stations were torched repeatedly, while public and private property was vandalized; and some people were beaten up because they had different views from the protesters.

Moreover, these actions were committed by people who had political objectives that they wanted the central government and the HKSAR government to accept, Cross added.

"They are pursuing these by the use of indiscriminate violence, intended to intimidate and coerce - and this is terrorism, pure and simple," Cross emphasized.

Cross said the government should learn vital lessons from this and must make no further concessions to violence.

'Sworn enemy of law'

"Violence is the sworn enemy of the rule of law. To this end, the legal system must ensure that culprits are investigated, prosecuted and tried, and that severe sentences are imposed upon the guilty," the legal expert said.

Cross said he believes that given the high levels of violence used by the rioters and their threats to life and limb, the public interest requires that suspects be prosecuted in accordance with the most serious charges available.

"Prosecutors should also maximize the number of charges, thereby ensuring that the courts can adequately sentence (offenders)," he said.

Under such circumstances, the Department of Justice's Prosecutions Division is under a great deal of pressure. The secretary for justice must ensure the Public Order Event Team (POET), which can decide whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and what charges are most appropriate, is fully manned and adequately resourced, Cross argued.

"If necessary, the secretary may have to consider retaining a cadre of experienced barristers to support the POET, perhaps as many as 20, either in advising on the cases, or in prosecuting them, or both, and answering to the director of public prosecutions," Cross said.

Helping our youth

According to Hong Kong police, as of Nov 18, about 4,500 people had been arrested during the prolonged social turmoil.

Although many offenders are young, they cannot rely on their age to protect them from the consequences of their crimes - unless they are of "extreme youth". The Court of Appeal has said this means they are younger than 16 years old, said Cross.

"If prison can be avoided for a young offender, the most obvious alternative will be a training center order - where he or she can be detained for between six months and three years," Cross argued.

Since the parents and teachers will have failed these youngsters, it will fall to training center staff to try to teach them basic values, with a view to turning them into decent citizens who respect other people, renounce violence and understand their civic responsibility, he added.

(HK Edition 11/27/2019 page4)