Secretary for Justice v Persons Unlawfully Persons unlawfully and wilfully conducting themselves in any of the acts prohibited under paragraph 1(a), (b) or (c) of the indorsement of claim

Coleman J in Chambers
13 November 2020

Facts

In light of the increased doxxing activities directed at judges and judicial officers and their family members arising from recent protests and public order events, the Secretary for Justice (SJ) obtained an ex parte injunction against unnamed defendants (Ds) restraining inter alia the use, publication, communication or disclosure to any other person the personal data of and concerning any judicial officer and/or their spouse and family members. This was the inter partes hearing of the application.

Held, continuing the injunction order until trial or further order of the Court, that:

1. There was at least a serious issue to be tried that widespread doxxing activities, including those directed at judges and judicial officers, had created a state of affairs in society endangering the public as a whole, and justifying the SJ’s intervention on behalf of the public. If left unchecked, doxxing might seriously erode public confidence in law and order, and the administration of justice in Hong Kong. Damage caused by unlawful public nuisance arising from doxxing activities was not quantifiable, and could not be adequately remedied by an award of damages (Attorney-General v Times Newspapers Ltd [1974] AC 273, Wong Yeung Ng v Secretary for Justice [1999] 2 HKLRD 293, Secretary for Justice v Persons Unlawfully and Wilfully Conducting Etc (1957/2019) [2019] 5 HKLRD 500 applied). (See paras.47–48.)
2. Whilst the injunction may have the effect of restricting certain fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of speech or freedom of expression as guaranteed by art.27 of the Basic Law, the Court had to perform a balancing and weighing of various relevant rights and freedoms, including the rights of doxxed persons and their family members to respect and privacy, as well as the need to maintain public order and confidence in the administration of justice. There was unlikely to be any prejudice suffered by Ds, in that the restrained acts constituted wrongful behaviour, and it was difficult to envisage any scenario where Ds were legally entitled to conduct doxxing activities. On the other hand, there was utility in the injunction, both to serve as a reminder to the public that doxxing activities were unlawful and should be met by sanctions of the Court, and to promote a meaningful drop in the number of doxxing posts. (See paras.49–51.)
3. It was not realistic to expect individual judges or judicial officers who were doxxed to seek recourse by taking legal action in their personal capacity. (See para.52.)
4. (Obiter) Persons from all sectors, with differing political views or none, should place their confidence in the proper workings of the system for the administration of justice which has for so long been rightly prized and praised in Hong Kong. The proper avenue for challenge to court decisions is reviews and appeals. There is also a proper complaint procedure if there is a complaint about a judge’s or judicial officer’s conduct. Judges or judicial officers should make decisions without the interference or influence of any other person or body, and without any other person or body assuming or encroaching on the function of the court. Judges and judicial officers are not engaged in the political process. They do not express political views or make political decisions. (See paras.46, 54–55.)

Application

This was the inter partes hearing of the application by the Secretary for Justice against unnamed defendants for the continuation of the injunction order restraining inter alia the use, publication, communication or disclosure to any other person the personal data of and concerning any judicial officer and/or their spouse and family members.

Jurisdictions