Hong Kong Politician cleared of inciting violence

The SDT has handed down judgment in SRA v Junius Ho. The Tribunal acquitted Junius Ho, a prominent Hong Kong politician, of inciting violence against his political opponents at a public rally in 2017.

Robin Kingham was instructed on behalf of Mr Ho.

Mr Ho was an elected member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and a practising solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong. He had also been admitted to the Roll in England and Wales in 1997, but had never practised in that jurisdiction.

The SRA case

On 17 September 2017, Mr Ho hosted a political rally in Tamar Park, Hong Kong, to call for the dismissal of Mr Benny Tai (a leader of the “Occupy” movement) from his post at the University of Hong Kong. The SRA alleged that during the course of the rally Mr Ho had made remarks which supported and reinforced comments made by another speaker to the effect that Mr Ho’s political opponents should be killed. The SRA also alleged that Mr Ho had made a series of public statements in the immediate aftermath of the rally that supported his initial remarks and that were capable of being perceived as inciting violence against these opponents.

The SRA’s case was that these statements amounted to a breach of Principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011: “You must behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”.

The defence

In his defence, Mr Ho acknowledged that a literal interpretation of the language used might carry a violent meaning. However, when taken in context, it was clear that Mr Ho was speaking figuratively. The SRA had interpreted his choice of words based on each individual Chinese word’s literal meaning, rather than on a nuanced understanding of idiomatic Cantonese. Further and in any event, the link between Mr Ho – a Hong Kong politician who had never practised in the UK, speaking in Cantonese in his capacity as a politician on matters of Hong Kong domestic policy – and the solicitors’ profession in England and Wales was too remote to infringe Principle 6.

Both the SRA and Mr Ho called expert evidence at trial in support of their interpretations.

Judgment

Although the Tribunal accepted that the literal meaning of Mr Ho’s words were violent, there was a body of corroborating evidence that supported Mr Ho’s contention that his statements would not have been understood literally by a native Cantonese-speaking audience. Taken in context, Mr Ho’s speech was intended to call for the dismissal of Mr Tai from the University of Hong Kong – not to incite violence.

Furthermore, in subsequent public statements Mr Ho had made clear that his use of language was intended to strongly condemn the actions of political opponents, rather than to call for violence against them. As the Tribunal noted, “the Tribunal was reluctant to read violent intent or sympathies into admittedly colourful comments made in a political context by an active politician on issues of considerable controversy” (at para. 24.73). As a result, the allegations against Mr Ho were dismissed.

Judgment available here: SRA v Junius Ho