Thursday, May 11, 2017

[EJinsight] Why CY Leung's defamation lawsuit has set a very bad precedent

Leung Chun-ying raised a lot of eyebrows by suing lawmaker Kenneth Leung for defamation because he told the media that the chief executive is being investigated by overseas authorities for accepting secret payments from Australian firm UGL without declaring them to the Executive Council.

This is the first time a Hong Kong leader has pressed civil charges against an incumbent lawmaker, and I believe it has set a very bad precedent.

First, the lawsuit not only further undermines the already tense relations between our legislature and the executive branch but also constitutes an outright contempt for the mandate and duty of our lawmakers to provide oversight of the conduct of government officials.

As Professor Johannes Chan of the University of Hong Kong law faculty pointed out, high-ranking government officials should never sue either the media or people's representatives for libel because there are so many public channels through which they can respond to the accusations and set the record straight.

Besides, lawmakers are elected with a public mandate to provide oversight of the government, a fact that the executive branch must respect. For instance, it is extremely rare for any high ranking official in either Britain or the US to sue anybody for libel, let alone lawmakers.

CY Leung owes the public an answer as to whether he is suing Kenneth Leung in his personal capacity using his own money, or in his official capacity using taxpayers' money.

The fact that CY Leung has been responding to media inquires about the lawsuit through government press releases suggests that he is taking the case to the courts in his capacity as chief executive.

Secondly, that CY Leung is suing a member of an independent Legco panel investigating his dealings with UGL will almost certainly disrupt the ongoing process.

Could the lawsuit be intended to silence other members on the inquiry board so as to influence the outcome of the investigation?

There has been talk that CY Leung may be promoted to vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

The fact that he is pressing charges at this delicate moment inevitably raises public suspicions that he does not want the Legco investigation to jeopardize his promotion.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 9 2017

Translation by Alan Lee


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