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The Jury System in Hong Kong


Five people were charged with rioting and inciting riots in the civil unrest that broke out in Mongkok in 2016. The jury was being selected at the High Court today (20 February 2018). The trial was expected to last for 60 days. More than a hundred jurors participated in the selection, with 9 of them were eventually selected to form the jury of this trial.

Selection of Jurors
According to the Headline Daily, the selection process began at 11:15 a.m..

The first candidate was a female. She was not objected and could have been a juror. However, she later mentioned that she had already purchased air tickets and was planning to go travelling. The defence lawyer objected her from serving as a juror after the jury was formed and she was exempted.

The second candidate was a male university professor. The judge granted him exemption after the man explained that there was no substitute instructor and his teaching was highly crucial to the graduation of around 90 students.

The third candidate was a woman working as the head of human resources department in a Japanese electronic parts company. She tried to seek exemption stating that she had to attend meeting overseas and attend a wedding in May. The court rejected her application on the basis that the trial would most likely be completed by mid-May. The defence lawyer objected her from serving as a juror after the jury is formed and she was exempted.

The fourth candidate was a woman. She did not ask for an exemption and lawyers from both sides did not raise any objection. She became the third juror.

The fifth candidate was a lady working as a company secretary. She sought exemption but was rejected by the court because the court believed that her colleagues could help her with her work. She became the fourth juror.

The sixth candidate was a man who said that he would not be able to attend the trial for 3 working days due to travelling overseas. The judge said she would make decision on his application for exemption depending on the selection progress.

The seventh and eighth candidate were objected from serving as jurors.

The ninth candidate was a self-employed designer. She sought exemption on the basis that she had signed a three-year contract with a secondary school and that her work could not be replaced by others. The judge said she would decide on her application for exemption depending on the selection progress.

The defence lawyer raised objection on the tenth candidate.

The eleventh candidate hoped to be exempted as she had bought ticket for travelling next month and that she was a witness for a fraud case. The defence lawyer objected.

The judge granted exemption on the twelfth candidate because she would travel for a week next month.

The defence lawyer objected the thirteenth candidate from serving as a juror.

The fourteenth candidate was a journalist. According to regulations, editors and journalists can be exempted from serving as a juror. Therefore, the judge approved the exemption.

The fifteenth candidate stated that some of her family members were police officers, which caused her to be biased in relation to the incident. The judge pointed out that the candidate had agreed that she would forgo her personal views if she had become a juror. The defence lawyer raised objection at last.

The sixteenth candidate said that her father had to undergo a surgery in the coming month and that she had to accompany him. The judge asked if she had any siblings that could help her. The judge also mentioned that the candidate could be allowed a day off on the day her father undergoing surgery.

The seventeenth candidate became the sixth juror.

The defence lawyer objected the eighteenth candidate from serving as a juror.

The nineteenth candidate originally became the seventh juror. However, after the jury was selected, he told the judge that he had to visit the hospital twice a week for physiotherapy. He was eventually dismissed as a juror by the judge.

The twentieth candidate was a primary school teacher. She told the judge that she had to go back to school to handle students’ issues at the end of February. The judge granted her a day off on that day and she became the eighth juror.

The twenty-first to twenty-third candidate were objected by the defence lawyers from serving as a juror.

The twenty-fourth candidate became the ninth juror.

After two jurors were objected from serving, there were two vacancies for the jury and the selection progress continued through drawing lots.

The twenty-fifth candidate was objected.

The twenty-sixth candidate was opposed by the defence lawyer.

The twenty-seventh candidate said that she had to take care of her one-year-old daughter. The judge asked if she had a domestic helper to help. The candidate replied by saying that she was a housewife. Furthermore, she also planned to go travelling next month. At last, the judge exempted her from serving as a juror.

The twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth candidate were objected by the defence lawyer.

The thirtieth candidate hoped to be exempted because she had to work overseas next month. The judge approved her application for exemption.

The thirty-first candidate became one of the jurors.

The thirty-second candidate pointed out that he and his wife had been supporting Hong Kong Indigenous in 2016 and that he and his wife would even make donations to this party. He believed that he could not make a fair judgment on such incident and sought exemption. The judge said she would decide on his application for exemption depending on the selection progress.

The thirty-third candidate became one of the jurors.

The defence lawyer raised objection on the thirty-fourth candidate.

The thirty-fifth candidate became one of the jurors.

The fifth defendant objected the lady who worked as a company secretary from serving as a juror.

The thirty-sixth candidate became the last juror of the jury.

9 jurors were selected and none of the defendants raised any objection on the selection of the jury.

The Honourable Madam Justice Anthea Pang pointed out that being a juror is one of the most important civil responsibilities of Hong Kong residents. Without the participation of the jury, it is impossible for the High Court to proceed with criminal litigation procedures. Although being a juror may bring inconveniences, it is a vital element of Hong Kong’s judicial system that benefits Hong Kong residents.

The history and formation of Hong Kong Jury
With jury-related laws being passed in 1845, the jury system has existed for more than 160 years in Hong Kong. Due to the small size of the population in 1845, the jury then was formed with six jurors. At present, the most serious cases, such as murder, manslaughter, cases involving drugs and commercial fraud, are usually heard by a Court of First Instance judge and a jury of seven jurors. The judge also has the power to increase the number of jurors to nine. Only five jurors are needed for cases heard in the Coroner’s Court.

Reasons for a jury
“The jury is composed of members of the general public. The jury is more likely to reach a fairer and more impartial verdict than the judge. The wide collective experience of the jurors and the meeting of many minds are seen as advantageous. Simply speaking, the jurors’ life experiences are more diversified than the judge himself. It may also be true that the jury is more familiar with the defendant’s or the witness’s way of living. On this basis, the jury has the power to decide on the credibility of the witness’s statement and the reasonableness of the course of the incident, in order to determine whether the defendant is credible or not.”--【Juries: A Hong Kong Perspective, Duff, Findlay, Hawarth, Chan (eds) (Hong Kong University Press, 1992)】。British traditions see the jury system as a symbol of the legitimacy of the legal system.

Eligibility of jurors
Being a juror is the responsibility of every eligible resident. Inconvenient as it may be, the jury plays an extremely important role in a society which emphasizes on the rule of law like Hong Kong. Therefore, one should feel honoured to be a part of the jury.

A resident of Hong Kong is eligible to serve as a juror if he/she:

1.    has reached the age of 21 but is not yet 65,

2.    is of a sound mind and has no disabilities such as hearing or visual impairments that might prevent him / her from serving as a juror, and

3.    is of good character and has sufficient knowledge of the language of the court proceedings (Chinese or English as the case may be).

Selection of jurors
The Commissioner of Registration will forward your personal data to the Registrar, High Court if you appear to be qualified for service as a juror under the Jury Ordinance. The Registrar, High Court, will serve a notice on you, notifying that your name is about to be added to the list of jurors.

The Registrar, High Court, compiles a provisional list of jurors in or before October in each alternate year. This list is confirmed during or before the following February.

The Registrar, High Court, each week draws at random a number of jurors from the list. If you are selected, a summons will be sent to you by registered post requesting your presence in the High Court or the Coroner's Court on a certain date.

A juror who has attended in response to a jury summons will not normally be summoned again within 2 years.

Responsibilities of jurors
Jurors decide on the facts in a case on the basis of the evidence brought forward in court and then decide on whether the accused is guilty or not.

In a death inquest, the jury decides the cause of and the circumstances connected with the death.

Duration of trial/death inquest
Criminal trials usually take one to three weeks and death inquests up to a few days. The trial judge or the coroner will inform members of the jury of the anticipated length of the case.

Non-attendance and discrimination against a juror
According to section 32 of the Jury Ordinance, failure to attend in response to a summons to juror is an offence.

Section 33 of the Jury Ordinance provides that an employer who terminates, threatens to terminate, the employment of, or in any way discriminates against, any person employed by him, for reasons in connection with jury service commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a fine at level 4 (currently HK$25,000) and to imprisonment for 3 months.

Allowance of being a juror
Once selected to serve as a member of the jury in a case, the juror will receive an allowance in accordance with section 31(1) of the Jury Ordinance for each day during the whole or part of which the juror serves. The daily allowance is around HK$300.

This article is written by the author according to his own understanding and practical experience. It is not a specific legal opinion or suggestion for a case. All lawyers, friends and readers, when encountering specific cases, please consult your specific case handling lawyers and take their opinions as the standard。