Thursday, November 23, 2017

Court Commends HKU Clinical Legal Education Centre in False Representation Case

The HKU Clinical Legal Education (CLE) Centre recently helped a client win his magistracy appeal (HCMA 259/2016) in the High Court on a charge of making a false statement. HKU's Communication and Public Affairs Office summarised the news reports as follows:
A man who had been convicted of making a false statement knowingly in an application for public housing was acquitted with the help of the Free Legal Advice Scheme on HKU Campus. HKU Law Principal Lecturer Mr Eric Cheung represented the man in court and argued that the man’s $1,440 income for two days’ part-time work should not be counted as part of his “current monthly salary”. The government’s Legal Aid Department had rejected the man’s legal aid application which was only granted after the scheme’s intervention. The judge commended the scheme, saying it had helped to clarify the rights and wrongs of the case for justice to be done. (Apple Daily, Ming Pao)​
HKU Legal Scholarship Blog interviewed Eric Cheung, director of the centre, about the case, which he argued in court.

1. What was the main issue in the case? 
Client was charged with having "knowingly made false statement on 2 Feb 2010 in respect of an application for a lease under the Housing Ordinance (or, in layman's terms, in his application for public housing) by declaring that his average monthly income was $12,830". The prosecution case was that apart from his fixed salary earned for that amount, he had also earned $1,440 while working as a part-time employee for RTHK on 21 and 26 Nov 2009 at a rate of $80 per hour, with payment made to him by bank transfer from RTHK into his bank account on 5 Jan 2010, but he did not declare the same. D's case at trial was that he did not know that the payment from RTHK was received on 5 Jan 2010 because he had not checked his passbook, and he did not realise at that time that he had to declare such payment as his current monthly income. The Magistrate disbelieved him and found that he had knowledge of such payment but knowingly concealed the same when declaring his monthly income as $12,830. The grounds of appeal were that: 1. What he made was not a false statement because this one-off income from RTHK in the past was not his current monthly income, as the evidence at trial showed that he no longer expected to do any further part-time work for RTHK since 26 Nov, and in particular after he had found a full-time job on 5 Dec 2009. 2. The Magistrate erred in finding that he knew that he had to declare the RTHK income and/or knew that he did receive the same on 5 Jan 2010.

2. How did the centre assist the client and court on the legal point? 
D's application for legal aid was initially refused for not passing the merits test. He sought legal advice from us under our FLAS scheme. With assistance from our students on research etc, we took the view that there was merits in the appeal, and we wrote to Department of Legal Aid (DLA) accordingly. Eventually, legal aid was granted and I was assigned by DLA to represent him. 

3.  Who was the judge and what did he say?
It is before Deputy Judge Anthony Kwok. He allowed the appeal on my first ground, and decided that he did not need to deal with the second ground. He commended the scheme (see the above press summary). One interesting point is that the Acting Senior Public Prosecutor (Ivan Cheung) representing the Respondent is our past CLE student. He also said in open court that he found the CLE course very meaningful.

4. How do you feel about the centre's involvement in this case? 
Very pleased to help rectify another miscarriage of justice. Very moved when I saw D's wife crying with relief and joy after the appeal was allowed. She said they had been under great emotional stress over the year (N.B. If the appeal failed, they were likely be evicted from the public housing). See also a comment I received from a first-year law student who attended the hearing:
"Thanks for your real-life teaching today and I really enjoyed it. I have witnessed how the judge changed his mind after hearing what you have got and looking at the evidence in detail. I realize how important to get well-prepared beforehand because you always have to be alert in court and point out inaccuracies in information that the judge and the prosecuting counsel have in mind. And most importantly, it's really a kind of special fulfillment that you can hardly find in doing commercial work when it comes to helping with the clients to fight against injustice. The clients were very emotional after the judgment and it touched me. That's what I have learnt from you and I like working as a barrister like you (though you are technically a solicitor).​"

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