A Hong Kong court has permitted a senior U.K. barrister to act on a criminal appeal over the objections of the prosecution and the Hong Kong Bar Association.
Clare Montgomery QC of London’s Matrix Chambers had applied for admission to the Hong Kong Bar in order to represent John Wong, the former head of the surgery department at Hong Kong University. He was convicted last year on two charges of misconduct in public office for misallocating university funds to pay for a personal servant and helping conceal a subordinate’s theft of over $386,000. He was also convicted on two counts of falsifying accounts by charging reimbursed university travel expenses against the profits and tax liability of a company he owned.
Wong, who was sentenced to 240 hours of community service, is appealing his conviction, while prosecutors are seeking review on the grounds that the sentence was too lenient.
Overseas counsel can be admitted to appear in Hong Kong if their advocacy is deemed to serve the public interest in part by helping the local courts “develop a jurisprudence which enjoys international recognition and reputation.”
The prosecution and Hong Kong Bar Association had argued against Montgomery’s admission on the grounds that there were no issues of unusual difficulty or complexity in the case.
But Wong’s lawyer, Graham Harris SC, argued that the charge that the defendant failed to report his subordinate’s theft particularly merited Montgomery’s admission, owing to its unusual difficulty and complexity. According to Harris, reporting his subordinate’s crime would likely have resulted in an examination of the university finances and revealed Wong’s own misallocations. As a result, the charge based on his failure to do so potentially violates the defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination.
Hong Kong High Court Justice Aarif Barma agreed with Harris on the self-incrimination issue. “It seems to me that the question of whether the privilege is engaged in the circumstances of this case is itself one of some difficulty and complexity, which may well involve having to look at the purpose of the privilege and its development,” the judge wrote.
But the judge rejected another argument by Harris based on the fact that the case had attracted significant publicity and media attention. “I would think that it would be a rare case indeed in which the identity of the personalities involved could be a factor in favour of admission of overseas counsel,” he wrote.
The Hong Kong court’s decision comes a month after a Singapore court rejected a senior British barrister, Jonathan Caplan QC, for a defense role in high-profile church embezzlement scandal.
Montgomery, who specializes in complex fraud cases, had also previously been approved to act for property developer Thomas Kwok, one of two billionaire brothers recently charged with bribing top officials in one of Hong Kong highest-profile prosecutions.
Harris was instructed by Robertsons. The Hong Kong Bar Association was represented by Ashley Burns SC, who was instructed by the firm of Kwok, Ng & Chan. Lewis Law appeared for the Hong Kong Department of Justice.
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