John Larrysson's Column: prima facie

In our recent protests against extradition, some lawyers have objected to a prima facie case being a justification for extradition. So what does this term mean? Prima facie is a Latin legal term meaning at first appearance. It is normal in other countries for extradition cases to be judged on the basis of prima facie evidence only. The court trusts the other country to be honest and not forge the evidence. The wording of the Hong Kong Fugitive Offenders Ordinance is similar to such laws in other countries. The lack of such trust is a problem in Hong Kong. 

[audio 1]

In the Hong Kong Fugitive Offenders Ordinance the wording is in clear English and does not use Latin. The Fugitive Offenders Ordinance includes section 23 (1) “Any supporting document or other document which is duly authenticated is admissible in evidence in any proceedings under this ordinance without further proof.” This sentence (along with other subsections) means that the court is required to believe without further proof that the other country's government has not given false evidence. 

Since the proposed amendments to the fugitive law will allow extradition to any place, that will include many countries whose legal systems are much worse than that north of the border. It might be reasonable to be generous with safeguards and change this section.

[audio 2]

Some people have told me that the extradition law would allow extraditing political and religious dissidents. However they have not read the actual text of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (Section 5) which requires a judge to not allow extradition if the suspect is at risk of persecution for his (or her) politics, race, religion or nationality. At some point do we have to trust a Hong Kong judge to obey the law? I respect the opinions of others; people can decide to support or oppose the ordinance and amendments. However if they have not read the actual text, can they really decide? These days actual thinking is an ignored option. 

[audio 3]

In a functioning democracy the amendments would be subject to intense negotiation back and forth, until healthy compromise could be reached. Hong Kong is not such a place. Protesters have not been calling for reasonable and proper changes, but the withdrawal of the whole amendment. There have only been calls to prevent any extradition at all. No compromise, no negotiated settlements and no agreements. Robbers, rapists and murderers must be protected; at least that seems to be what the protesters are demanding.

[audio 4]

Related links:

Cap. 503 Fugitive Offenders Ordinance

Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019

Proposed amendments to Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance

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Protester, Demonstrator & Rioter

by John Larrysson [email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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