In 2013 a total of nine defendants, who had provided representative visiting services to prisoners awaiting trial, were charged with conspiracy to defraud by dishonestly misrepresenting that they were “friends” of the prisoners. Three defendants pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to 2 months’ imprisonment. Some other defendants sought free legal advice from the Clinical Legal Education (CLE) Programme of the HKU Faculty of Law and decided to plead not guilty. Mr. Eric Cheung, the Director of CLE, eventually represented some of the defendants as their duty lawyer at the trial. The magistrate convicted the defendants after trial and imposed community service orders on them. Mr. Cheung, who was granted the Higher Rights of Audience as from 2014, continued to represent one defendant as solicitor advocate assigned by the Director of Legal Aid in her appeal before the Court of Appeal as well as the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) while Professor Johannes Chan SC (Hon) represented another defendant. Law students had the valuable opportunity to assist and observe the court proceedings at all three levels of courts.
By judgment handed down on 14 May 2018 in FACC 6&7 of 2017, the CFA allowed the appeal. Apart from ruling on the questions of law of great and general importance in favour of the appellants by construing the word “friends” in the Prison Rules to include them, the CFA also found that substantial and grave injustice was done to them because the evidence fell short of proving the elements of dishonesty and of conspiracy agreement. The CFA further described the prosecution as “heavy handed” and expressed “some surprise that the appellants were charged”.
HKU runs the first and only live-client CLE programme in Hong Kong, providing much needed pro bono legal services to the community and offering hands-on training to students. Since its introduction in January 2010, around 400 students have joined the CLE Course and 1,280 FLAS cases have been handled.
For more information about the CLE Programme, please visit http://www.law.hku.hk/cle/.