Closing Submission of Tai Yiu-ting (D1)
1. First, this is a case of civil disobedience.
2. Here, I am standing up for civil disobedience.
3. The Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement, initiated by Professor Chan Kin-man, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and I, was a movement of civil disobedience.
4. Civil disobedience, known little by Hong Kong people in the past, is now a household idea in Hong Kong.
5. The Court of Final Appeal in Secretary for Justice v Wong Chi Fung (2018) 21 HKCFAR 35 at paragraph 70 endorsed the definition of civil disobedience put forward by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (Revised Edition, 1999) at p. 320.
6. Civil disobedience is “a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government.”
7. In Secretary for Justice v Wong Chi Fung, the Court of Final Appeal with Lord Hoffmann as the non-permanent judge repeated at paragraph 72 what Lord Hoffmann had said in R v Jones (Margaret)  1 AC 136 at paragraph 89, “civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history in this country.” The Court of Final Appeal accepted that the concept of civil disobedience is equally recognisable in a jurisdiction respecting individual rights, like Hong Kong.
8. However, it was not explained why civil disobedience is honourable and civilised.
9. John Rawls’ definition spells out more the actus reus of civil disobedience.
10. In his very famous work on civil disobedience, Letter from a Birmingham Jail reproduced in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 71, No. 1/4 (Winter - Autumn, 1986), pp. 38-44, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. provided more the mens rea of civil disobedience or the spirit of civil disobedience. The Letter was written by him on 16 April 1963 while in jail serving a sentence for participating in civil rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.
11. He said (p. 41), “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”
12. To Dr King, a law could be just on its face but unjust in its application. He said in the Letter (p. 40-41), “I was arrested…on a charge of parading without a permit. Now there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to …deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.”
13. He also said (p. 39), “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatise the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
14. I was inspired very much by Dr King, and this is the same spirit we have implanted in the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement. Following Dr King’s steps closely in the path of civil disobedience, we strive to inspire self-sacrificing love and peacefulness but not to incite anger and hatred.
15. The Court of Final Appeal in Secretary for Justice v Wong Chi Fung further cited what Lord Hoffmann had said in R v Jones (Margaret), “[T]here are conventions which are generally accepted by the law-breakers on one side and the law-enforcers on the other. The protesters behave with a sense of proportion and do not cause excessive damage or inconvenience. And they vouch the sincerity of their beliefs by accepting the penalties imposed by the law.”
16. Though the Court of Final Appeal did not quote this part of the judgment in Secretary for Justice v Wong Chi Fung, Lord Hoffmann in R v Jones (Margaret) also said, “The police and prosecutors, on the other hand, behave with restraint and the magistrates impose sentences which take the conscientious motives of the protesters into account.” These other conventions of civil disobedience should also apply, and it is not likely that the Court of Final Appeal would object.
17. The purpose of civil disobedience is not to obstruct the public but to arouse public concern to the injustice in society and to win sympathy from the public on the cause of the social movement.
18. If it is found that a person is committing an act of civil disobedience, he could not have intended to cause unreasonable obstruction as it will defeat the whole purpose of civil disobedience itself even if his action might at the end have caused a degree of obstruction more than he could have known.
19. Non-violence was the overarching principle of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement. The act of civil disobedience, i.e. occupy Central, was the last resort of the movement. The manner of civil disobedience by the protesters was to sit down together on the street with arms locked and wait to be arrested by the police without struggling. The scale of occupation was planned and intended to be proportionate. We believe that the obstruction must be reasonable.
20. I believe we have done our part as the law-breaker in civil disobedience. We expect the others will do their parts.
21. In a case of civil disobedience, whether the means of civil disobedience is proportionate; contextually, the end must be considered.
22. This is a case about some Hong Kong people who love Hong Kong very much and believe that only through the introduction of genuine universal suffrage could a door be opened to resolving the deep-seated conflicts in Hong Kong.
23. I am one of those Hong Kong people. With all people who share the same democratic dream, we have waited for more than thirty years for our constitutional rights. Since the time I was a law student at the University, I had been involved in Hong Kong’s Democratic Movement. Now, my son has just graduated from the University, democracy is still nowhere in Hong Kong.
24. Also said by Dr King in the Letter (p. 292), “…freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”
25. In seeking for justice, our planned action in the eyes of the powerholders may indeed be a nuisance.
26. According to Article 45 of the Basic Law the ultimate aim of the selection of the Chief Executive (“CE”) is by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.
27. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) provides that, “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: … (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors…”
28. The United Nations Human Rights Committee gave its understanding and requirements of universal and equal suffrage under Article 25 of the ICCPR in its General Comment No. 25 adopted on 12 July 1996. (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.7).
29. Paragraph 15 provides that, “The effective implementation of the right and the opportunity to stand for elective office ensures that persons entitled to vote have a free choice of candidates.”
30. Paragraph 17 provides that, “political opinion may not be used as a ground to deprive any person of the right to stand for election.”
31. Through its Interpretation of Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law in 2004, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (“NPCSC”) in effect changed the constitutional procedures to amend the election methods of the CE.
32. Before the CE can put forward bills on the amendments to the election methods to the Legislative Council (“LegCo”), two more steps are added. The CE is required to make a report to the NPCSC as regards whether there is a need to make an amendment and the NPCSC must make a determination in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (“HKSAR”) and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. Such bills need to have the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the LegCo and the consent of the CE, and they shall be reported to the NPCSC.
33. On 31 August 2014, the NPCSC completed the second step of the constitutional reform process by issuing a decision on the election method of the CE. The NPCSC laid down specific and stringent requirements on the election method of the CE by universal suffrage in addition to the determination that starting from 2017 the selection of the CE may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage.
34. The number of members, composition and formation of the Nomination Committee (“NC”) have to be made in accordance with the number of members, composition and formation method of the Election Committee for the 4th CE. The NC can only nominate two to three candidates for the office of CE in accordance with democratic procedures. Each candidate must have the endorsement of more than half of all the members of the nominating committee.
35. In accordance with the procedure added by itself, the NPCSC should only have the power to make a determination of approving or not approving the CE’s report but not providing detailed requirements on the composition and nomination procedures of the NC. The NPCSC has failed to follow the procedures set by itself.
36. If the requirements set by the NPCSC on the election method of the CE were to be followed, electors in Hong Kong would not have a genuine choice of candidates in the election as all unwelcome candidates would be screened out. This is not compatible with the meaning of universal suffrage.
37. These Hong Kong people resorted to civil disobedience to arouse more concern in the community and the world that the Chinese Government had unjustly broken its constitutional promise and breached its constitutional obligation.
38. We did all we had done to protect our constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of all Hong Kong people including those who disagreed with our action, to demand a constitutional promise to be honored by our sovereign, to strive for a fundamental reform in the constitutional system of Hong Kong, and to bring more justice to the future of Hong Kong.
39. This is also a case of the right to freedom of peaceful demonstration and the right to freedom of speech.
40. According to the original plan of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement, the public meeting to be organised was to be held at the Chater Road Pedestrian Precinct, the Chater Garden, and the Statue Square, from 3:00 pm on 1 October 2014 to the latest on 5 October 2014.
41. We expected that there would be three groups of people coming. The first group of people decided to commit the act of civil disobedience. They would continue to sit on the Chater Road after the notified time expired. They would be the people who had chosen the second or the third option in the letter of intent of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement.
42. The second group of people decided not to commit the act of civil disobedience but just came to support the first group of people. They would leave the Chater Road after the notified time expired and move to the Chater Garden or the Statue Square. They would be the people who had chosen the first option in the letter of intent of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement.
43. The third group of people might not have made up their mind yet on whether they would join the action of civil disobedience. They could decide at the very last moment when the notified time expired by choosing where to stay.
44. We believed that the police would have sufficient time to remove all the protesters joining the act of civil disobedience of occupy Central; estimated to be a few thousands.
45. We asked all participants to observe the discipline of non-violence strictly. We adopted specific measures to ensure most if not all participants would follow.
46. We were exercising our constitutional right to the freedom of peaceful demonstration protected by Article 27 of the Basic Law. It is also closely associated with the right to freedom of speech also protected by Article 27 of the Basic Law. By Article 39 of the Basic Law, constitutional protection is also given to freedom of opinion, of expression and of peaceful assembly as provided for in Articles 16 and 17 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, those articles being the equivalents of Articles 19 and 21 of the ICCPR and representing part of the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.
47. If the original plan were to be carried out, it might breach some requirements under the Public Order Ordinance concerning the organisation of unauthorised assembly. However, we believed that the public meeting to be held would not cause unreasonable obstruction to the public.
48. The space to be occupied, including the carriageway, can be freely used by every citizen on public holidays.
49. The first two days of the planned occupation were public holidays and the last two days were the weekend.
50. When the venue of the public meeting was moved to the area outside the Central Government Offices including the pavements and carriageways at Tim Mei Avenue, Legislative Council Road and Lung Hui Road (“the Demonstration Area”), though the public meeting’s themes, leadership, organization and composition of participants had changed, the spirit had not.
51. People were asked to join the public meeting in the Demonstration Area on 27 and 28 September 2014. It was still an exercise of their constitutional right to freedom of peaceful demonstration and freedom of speech by Hong Kong citizens.
52. Similar public meetings had been held in the Demonstration Area during the Anti-national Curriculum Campaign from 3-9 September 2012. Citizens at that time could have access to the Civic Square, i.e. the East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Offices. Other than that, the space being occupied by protesters during the Anti-national Curriculum Campaign in September 2012 was very similar to the space that was being occupied by protesters on 27 and 28 September 2014 before the police cordoned all access to the Demonstration Area.
53. Since the Anti-national Curriculum Campaign in 2012, the Demonstration Area has been generally recognised to be the public space that can be used for organising big public meetings with a large number of people participating to protest against the Government of the HKSAR. In another word, the Demonstration Area is known to the public to be an important venue for citizens of Hong Kong to gather and to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration together.
54. On the basis of this public knowledge that we share, at the time when I announced the early beginning of the Occupy Central in the small hours on 28 September 2014, we could only be intending to ask people to come to the Demonstration Area but no other place. Occupying places outside the Demonstration Area could not have been in the thought of us at that time. No one could have intended that.
55. The Court of Final Appeal in Leung Kwok-hung v. HKSAR (2005) 8 HKCFAR 229 at paragraph 22 pointed out that, “…the right of peaceful assembly involves a positive duty on the part of the Government, that is the executive authorities, to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enable lawful assemblies to take place peacefully.”
56. As senior superintendent Wong Key-wai (PW2) said in his evidence, the police closed the carriageways in the Demonstration Area for the safety of the protesters when there were too many protesters on the adjacent pavements.
57. Having a public space for the public opposing the Government of the HKSAR to gather and vent their dissatisfaction against the Government peacefully is a public benefit to the society of Hong Kong. No common injury to the public can be caused even if a public meeting is being held in the Demonstration Area in contravention with the Public Order Ordinance for a prolonged period. The section of the public that will be affected is very small and the inconvenience caused is comparatively insignificant.
58. Mr Justice Bokhary PJ said in Yeung May-wan v. HKSAR (2005) 8 HKCFAR 137 at paragraph 144, “The mere fact that an assembly, a procession or a demonstration causes some interference with free passage along a highway does not take away its protection under art. 27 of the Basic Law. In my view, it would not lose such protection unless the interference caused is unreasonable in the sense of exceeding what the public can reasonably be expected to tolerate. As to that, I think that the participants in a large or even massive assembly, procession or demonstration will often be able to say with justification that their point could not be nearly as effectively made by anything on a smaller scale. Subject to this, the most obviously relevant considerations are, I think, how substantial the interference is and how long it lasts. But other considerations can be relevant, too. These include, I think, whether the interference concerned had been recently preceded by another act or other acts of interference on another occasion or other occasions. What the public can reasonably be expected to tolerate is a question of fact and degree. But when answering this question, a court must always remember that preservation of the freedom in full measure defines reasonableness and is not merely a factor in deciding what is reasonable.”
59. No obstruction can be caused by the protesters participating in a public meeting in the Demonstration Area as all carriageways in the Demonstration Area were closed by the police. The police closed the carriageways in the Demonstration Area to ensure the protesters there can exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly safely and peacefully. Even if there were to be some degree of obstruction in the Demonstration Area, the obstruction could not be unreasonable in light of the constitutional right to freedom of peaceful demonstration of the protesters.
60. Even after protesters walked into the carriageways of Fenwick Pier Street and Harcourt Road on 28 September 2014, people were continuing to be asked to come to the Demonstration Area but not to stay on those roads. The police were demanded to reopen the access to the Demonstration Area so that people could come and join the protesters in the Demonstration Area. If the access to the Demonstration Area were not blocked by the police, most if not all of the people out there would have entered the Demonstration Area and those roads would not have been occupied. No tear gas would need to be fired.
61. It should be the duty of the police to facilitate the holding of a public meeting in the Demonstration Area by citizens. However, the police had cordoned the Demonstration Area and prevented people from joining the public meeting in the Demonstration Area. Any obstruction outside the Demonstration Area could not be intended or caused by the protesters gathering in the Demonstration Area who were just inviting other people to join them in the Demonstration Area.
62. The police irresponsibly refused to reopen the access to the Demonstration Area even after the police saw that a large number of people were gathering outside the Demonstration Area intending to enter the Demonstration Area. The police must be responsible for the obstruction outside the Demonstration Area and what happened afterwards.
63. Everything changed after the firing of the 87 canisters of tear gas and excessive force had been used by the police.
64. The firing of tear gas in such a way was something that no one could have known. Matters were no longer in our control. By then, the most important thing we wanted to do was to bring everyone home safe.
65. In the many days and nights following the firing of the tear gas, we had tried to use different methods to bring an earlier end of the occupation. We helped arrange a dialogue between the student leaders and senior government officials. We tried to convince others to accept an arrangement of de facto referendum as a mechanism to retreat. We organised a plaza voting. Even though most of the things we had done came to be futile, we did work very hard and exhausted all methods we could think of to achieve this goal. In the end, we surrendered to the police on 3 December 2014. The occupation at the Admiralty area ended on 11 December 2014.
66. This is a case about the improperness of laying charges relating to public nuisance.
67. As asserted by Lord Hoffmann in R v Jones (Margaret), prosecutors also have conventions to follow in a case of civil disobedience. They should behave with restraint.
68. In “Public Nuisance – A Critical Examination,” Cambridge Law Journal 48(1), March 1989, pp. 55-84, at p. 77, J. R. Spencer observed that, “...almost all the prosecutions for public nuisance in recent years seem to have taken place in one of two situations: first, where the defendant’s behaviour amounted to a statutory offence, typically punishable with a small penalty, and the prosecutor wanted a bigger or extra stick to beat him with, and secondly, where the defendant’s behaviour was not obviously criminal at all and the prosecutor could think of nothing else to charge him with.”
69. Lord Bingham in R v Rimmington  1 AC 469 at paragraph 37 endorsed the criticisms of J. R. Spencer concerning the ulterior motive of a prosecutor laying a charge of public nuisance.
70. If there is an appropriate statutory offence to cover the unlawful act in a case of civil disobedience, one would rightly ask why laying the charges of public nuisance? Even though it might not be an abuse of process, the prosecutor in this case must have breached the convention of civil disobedience applicable to him as asserted by Lord Hoffmann in R v Jones (Margaret) for failing to behave with restraint.
71. This is a case about the improperness of laying charges of conspiracy and incitement to incite.
72. Similarly, laying charges of conspiracy and incitement to incite is excessive in a case of civil disobedience and a case of the right to freedom of peaceful demonstration.
73. Pieces of evidence relied upon by the prosecution in the conspiracy charge were public statements made by us. Civil disobedience by definition must be a public act. If these public statements can be used to support the prosecution, all civil disobedience at its formation stage will be suppressed. It is meaningless to talk about civil disobedience as something honourable as no civil disobedience would have happened. Even worse, a chilling effect will be generated in society, and many legitimate speeches will be silenced. The restriction on the right to freedom of speech must be disproportionate.
74. Whether there can be an offence of incitement to incite under the Hong Kong common law is still disputable. Even if there is such an offence, laying charges of incitement to incite in a case of civil disobedience and a case of the right to freedom of peaceful demonstration must have extended culpability excessively, unreasonably and unnecessarily.
75. Since the substantial offence is the questionable offence of public nuisance, laying a charge of incitement to incite public nuisance must have extended culpability to even a manifestly unreasonable degree.
76. If the prosecutor has not acted in such an excessive and unreasonable manner and proper charges were laid, we would not have filed a defence.
77. Nonetheless, filing a defence against charges believed to be excessive and unreasonable should not be considered to be failing to comply with the conventions of civil disobedience on the part of the law-breakers as not accepting the penalties imposed by the law.
78. There are some questions that I am not in the position to answer. If the prosecutor fails to comply with the convention of civil disobedience asserted by Lord Hoffmann in R v Jones (Margaret), what will be the consequence? Who is responsible for rectifying the wrongs?
79. At the end, this is a case about Hong Kong’s rule of law and high degree of autonomy.
80. As a scholar of the rule of law and the constitutional law of Hong Kong, I believe that merely having judicial independence is not sufficient to maintain the rule of law in Hong Kong.
81. Without a genuinely democratic system, powers of the government can still be exercised arbitrarily, and the fundamental rights of citizens will not be adequately protected. Also, without democracy, it will be difficult to withstand the more and more severe encroachment on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the policy of “One Country Two System”. After the Umbrella Movement, there is still a long way before we can reach the destination of Hong Kong’s journey to democracy.
82. Mr Justice Tang, PJ at his Farewell Sitting (2018) 21 HKCFAR 530 at paragraphs 17-19 said, “…although judges are prepared to uphold the rule of law as it has always been understood and applied in Hong Kong, the community must be willing to support them. In what form the support should take? I think the support should be all-embracing. If the judiciary is unfairly attacked, you should hold firm and stand up for them. But, support should not only be events driven. That is not enough. It may be too late. You should endeavour to nurture an atmosphere friendly to the rule of law. We have a free press and free elections in Hong Kong. Make your voice heard and your vote count. Believe me, the price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance. Above all else, do not give up or underestimate your strength. If we as a community insist on the rule of law, it cannot be taken from us easily. Do not make it easy.”
83. We all have our duty to defend the rule of law and the high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong.
84. I am here because I have used many years of my life and up to this very moment to defend the rule of law of Hong Kong, an integral part of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. I will also never give up on striving for Hong Kong’s democracy.
85. I believe that civil disobedience can be justified by the rule of law. Civil disobedience and the rule of law share the same gaol in pursuing justice. Civil disobedience is an effective way of securing the attainment of this common goal at least in the long run by creating the climate within which other means can be used to achieve that goal. (See Benny Yiu-ting Tai, “Civil Disobedience and the Rule of Law,” in Ng, M. H. (Ed.), Wong, J. D. (Ed.). (2017). Civil Unrest and Governance in Hong Kong. London: Routledge. At pp. 141-162.)
86. If we were to be guilty, we will be guilty for daring to share hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong.
87. I am not afraid or ashamed of going to prison. If this is the cup I must take, I will drink with no regret.
List of Authorities
1. Secretary for Justice v Wong Chi Fung (2018) 21 HKCFAR 35, paragraphs 70 and 72.
2. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Revised Edition, 1999), p. 320.
3. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 71, No. 1/4 (Winter - Autumn, 1986), pp. 38-44.
4. R v Jones (Margaret)  1 AC 136, paragraph 89.
5. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No 25 adopted on 12 July 1996 (on Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.7, paragraph 15 and 17.
6. Leung Kwok-hung v HKSAR (2005) 8 HKCFAR 229, paragraph 22.
7. Yeung May-wan v HKSAR (2005) 8 HKCFAR 137, paragraph 144.
8. J. R. Spencer, “Public Nuisance – A Critical Examination,” Cambridge Law Journal 48(1), March 1989, pp. 55-84, p. 77.
9. R v Rimmington  1 AC 469, paragraph 37.
10. Farewell Sitting for the Honourable Mr Justice Tang PJ (2018) 21 HKCFAR 530, Tang PJ, paragraphs 17-19.
11. Benny Yiu-ting Tai, “Civil Disobedience and the Rule of Law” in Ng, M. H. (Ed.), Wong, J. D. (Ed.). (2017). Civil Unrest and Governance in Hong Kong. London: Routledge. At pp. 141-162.