HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s taxpayers will have to bear a fifth of the legal costs incurred by the government in the unseating of two pro-independence lawmakers, after a judge found the head of the legislature had a “positive and active” role in opposing the suits. Though the exact sum to be paid has not yet been disclosed, it is likely to be hundreds of thousands of dollars at least. In a judgment handed down on Thursday, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung wrote: “It is difficult to see why [a public authority] should not bear the costs like any other litigant simply on the basis that it is a public body.” Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen earlier challenged Au’s order concerning who should foot the parties’ legal bills after the judge had ruled against him and the Youngspiration pair Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching in a series of lawsuits filed by the government. Apart from disqualifying Baggio Leung and Yau over their anti-Beijing antics during the Legco swearing-in ceremony in October, the judge earlier ordered that the localist duo bear 80 per cent of the government’s legal costs and that the president pay the rest.
Au reaffirmed in his latest judgement that the president was necessarily named a party to the case as he had previously decided that he would re-administer the Legco oath to the Youngspiration duo. The judge added that Andrew Leung had also taken an active step to oppose the judicial review lawsuits on limited grounds. “There is no reason why he should not bear the costs of the [government] to the extent of his opposition,” he wrote. Au said it was a general rule that the legal costs of the winning party would be paid by the losing party. He rejected the arguments that the subject matter of the proceedings had been in the public interest and the president, who had no personal interest in the case, should be exempt from bearing the legal costs.
“The fact that both parties are litigating out of public funds cannot in my view be a relevant factor as contended,” the judge added. “If a public authority who is a party to judicial review proceedings wants to avoid an order of costs in the event of an adverse judgment, the usual course that it should adopt is to remain neutral to the proceedings and to abide by the result thereof,” Au concluded. Speaking on the sidelines of the Legco meeting, Andrew Leung said he respects the latest judgement. “I had challenged the decision because public resources were involved … I will discuss with my legal adviser and the Legco’s secretariat on what to do next,” he said, adding that he has yet to calculate how much the payment is. After the pro-independence pair were disqualified, the Hong Kong government also mounted another legal battle seeking to disqualify four more pro-democracy lawmakers. The court has yet to rule on the case. Asked if the Legco should pay for the four lawmakers’ costs as well, Leung said: “No, I was exercising my power and responsibility as the president, but the other lawmakers should be paying their own personal costs.”