Department of Justice’s sentence review appeal fails in PolyU riot case


1st December 2023 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal has rejected the Department of Justice’s application to review the sentences imposed on five defendants involved in the Polytechnic University (PolyU) riot case. The defendants had been convicted of participating in the violent clashes that took place at the university in November 2019. The Court of Appeal’s decision, delivered on 1st December, explained the reasons for upholding the original sentences.

The riot at PolyU occurred when a large number of protesters occupied the university campus and engaged in intense confrontations with law enforcement officers. Subsequently, the campus was surrounded by law enforcement personnel, and many protesters attempted to escape but were apprehended and arrested. The five defendants in question admitted to charges of rioting and were sentenced to imprisonment for a period ranging from 15 to 19 months.

The Department of Justice believed that the sentences imposed were too lenient and sought to have them reviewed. However, after the Court of Appeal conducted a hearing, it rejected the appeal and upheld the original sentences. In its judgment, the Court of Appeal noted that the starting point of a two-year imprisonment term, as determined by the trial judge, was too light given the gravity of the offence, considering the involvement of the PolyU riot. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the case was subject to a review and the imminent completion of the defendants’ sentences, the court decided not to modify the sentences.

The five defendants in this case are Kwok Chi-fan (24 years old), Ma Ka-wai (27), Yim Ka-lung (28), Brian Leung (26), and Hui Ning-hin (22), with Ma and Yim being married. The judgment emphasized that the sentencing should take into account the overall context of the PolyU riot, which was a significant event impacting public order and involving the defendants’ culpability, making it incomparable to similar incidents. The court criticized the trial judge for appearing indecisive and ambiguous in considering the PolyU incident when imposing the sentences. Although the court acknowledged that the PolyU riot was a relevant factor, it concluded that the starting point of the sentences remained too lenient. Ultimately, given the review process and the imminent completion of their sentences, the court decided not to modify the sentences.

All five defendants admitted to participating in the riot that took place on 18th November, 2019, in the vicinity of PolyU, Chatham Road South, and Science Museum Road, along with other individuals. Kwok additionally admitted to the offence of possessing unlicensed radio communication equipment, while Leung admitted to possessing a spanner suitable for unlawful purposes. The trial judge, Chan Kwong-chi, stated that the sentencing could only be based on the brief period of rioting on the morning of 18th November, 2019, rather than the overall week-long duration or the rioting that began in the early hours of 18th November. Consequently, Leung was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, Hui received a 15-month sentence, Ma and Yim were respectively sentenced to 16 and 19 months’ imprisonment, and Kwok was sentenced to 19 months’ imprisonment and fined HK$2,500.