9 March 2022

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John Reading SC and Lawrence Ng of Pacific Chambers represented a female police officer who was charged with four counts of shop theft and other charges.

Following a two day trial, the Defendant was acquitted on all charges. It was the defence case that the Defendant had been mentally ill for over 20 years, was suffering from 3 separate mental disorders and it was unlikely that she would have engaged in the conduct the subject of the charges, but for her mental illness. Detailed expert evidence was led to support the defence case.

Whilst it was gratifying that the defendant was found not guilty, there were several matters of note that arose out of the case.

First, the police and the prosecuting authority were fully aware of the defendant’s longstanding psychiatric history. Despite certain provisions in the Prosecution Code the decision was made that the prosecution of the defendant should continue.

Second, the defendant should have been permitted to retire on medical grounds in 2017 when she made her first application to retire on that basis, because in the following years the defendant’s condition further deteriorated.

Third, reports in the media following the outcome of the case were critical of the decision. In some reports the decision was categorized as “another case of the courts favouring the police.”  This was unfair to the presiding Magistrate who provided detailed reasons for his decision based on the evidence given during the trial, and unfair to the defendant who had to sit through the ordeal of a trial during which her unblemished character was attacked, and she and her detailed medical history were put on public display.

It is fortunate that Hong Kong still has an effective criminal justice system which produced a fair result.