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A rather unpalatable legal process

Hong Kong, 3 March 2021: Fatty foods are off the menu in the Cohen household as my fitness drive gathers pace. In addition to gym sessions, stretching routines and regular hikes, healthy eating is a key component of my newly sensible lifestyle. Goodbye pizzas, pies and puddings, hello fruit and vegetables. My usual lunch is a salad, evening meals are always light. I’ve shed 15kg in the past year and feel so much better for it.

Desserts, especially, are a no-no. Ice cream, mousse, gateaux and the like are strictly forbidden. Rather, such delights would appear more suited to the government prosecutors at West Kowloon Court who, in the choice words of one of the defence counsel, “want to have their cake and eat it” as they seek to deny bail to 47 defendants accused of breaching the national security law.

For any readers who haven’t been following this week’s events, a quick summary. The 47 were among 55 individuals arrested in January after taking part in an unofficial primary election organised by opposition politicians and activists. The authorities insist it was a subversive plot to seize control of the Legislative Council with the ultimate aim of paralysing the government and toppling Chief Executive Carrie Lam.  

The 47 reported to police last Sunday, when they were charged with subversion and detained ahead of the hearing, which commenced the next day. It should be noted that obtaining bail in national security cases is far from straightforward. Prosecutors are asking the court to hold the accused in custody for at least another three months while police complete their inquiries.

As I write, the court has entered its third straight marathon day of bail applications. Monday’s session ended in the early hours of Tuesday after a female defendant fainted. She was one of four taken to hospital suffering from fatigue. Yesterday’s session ended comparatively early at 10:35pm, with around half those in the dock allowed to leave early after the magistrate said he feared they were not getting enough rest. Several appeared drained and sleepy. Defence lawyers said some of their clients had not been able to change clothes since Sunday. Proceedings resumed at 12:00 noon today with eight bail applications still to be heard.

I cannot recall a situation such as this in my four decades as a legal professional in Hong Kong. We have long-established protocols and processes in place. In cases involving scores of defendants, it is usual for bail hearings and the like to be done in batches to avoid drawn-out proceedings. It is reasonable to expect charges to be laid once investigations are almost complete, not at an immature stage. Defendants are entitled to presumption of innocence and should be treated thus. I confess to having serious concerns about what is happening in this case.

If events at West Kowloon Court are somewhat deflating, at least I’m buoyed by the prospect of my impending Covid-19 vaccination. I signed up this morning for my Pfizer-BioNTech shot on 27 March, with the second dose to be administered on 17 April. I’ve given the authorities enough stick in this column regarding our city’s delayed vaccine roll-out, so I should point out the online booking system was quick and easy.

Staying on this topic, I wish to highlight the latest podcast from Dr David Owens in which he again sits down with epidemiologist Professor Ben Cowling to discuss the role of Covid-19 vaccinations in the normalisation of life in Hong Kong. It is recommended listening.

Our gradual return to some sort of natural order includes, thankfully, restaurants remaining open until 10:00pm. Not so those in the upscale K11 Musea shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, however. The mall is closed this week, with a cluster of positive coronavirus cases connected to one of its eateries growing to 49 people as of yesterday. An investigation revealed the restaurant’s ventilation system was inadequate, meaning the fresh air supply to its customers was only a third of the expected amount. K11 Musea’s owners promptly announced they were terminating the restaurant’s tenancy agreement. Amid this fallout, Hong Kong confirmed 13 new infections yesterday and 14 today, taking the city’s total to 11,046 in the past year, with 200 related deaths.

Happily, the K11 Musea drama didn’t affect the Cohen family’s enjoyable weekend staycation at the nearby Rosewood Hong Kong. Grandson Nathan duly pitched his tent in my room, although he mercifully didn’t insist that gung gung (grandfather) should join him in it. A questionable highlight of our stay was my gym workout in which son-in-law Vincent delighted in handing me heavier dumbbells than those prescribed by my trainer, who was giving instructions via Zoom. At least I worked up a great appetite for dinner. No cake, though.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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