Justice not blind to political tricks

Editorial | Mary Ma 14 Jan 2021

Justice, they say, is blind - but it should never shut its eyes to political shenanigans in the courtroom.

There has been a stir since District Court judge Ernest Lin on Monday ordered three people - including a defense lawyer - to leave his courtroom during a case related to the 2019 protests.

The trio were all wearing bright yellow masks bearing, in small print, the letters "F.D.N.O.L."

Yesterday Lin explained that his decision was not so much about the color of the masks, but about the slogan.

That's because the five capital letters are commonly understood to be a short form of the "Five Demands Not One Less" battle cry among yellow-camp protesters during the chaotic violence of 2019.

Some security officials even believe the slogan could be illegal under the national security law.

The incident in Lin's courtroom may appear minor but, as far as the judge sees it, it is a matter of principle that should be respected.

I do not believe he is biased against any particular color, and I assume he would have taken the same action whatever hue of the masks if they, too, carried political slogans.

It is apparent that Lin was determined to keep proceedings in his courtroom orderly by not allowing a venue for legal arguments to become a chamber of political debate.

Critics may say he was being oversensitive, but they cannot accuse him of being wrong. As the judge, he is fully entitled to oversee order in his courtroom.

And it is yet to be seen whether his handling of the incident will set a precedent for his peers.

In a different courtroom, a defendant wearing a mask also printed with "F.D.N.O.L." stood trial without being told by the judge to replace it.

So unless the judiciary states otherwise, it appears to be entirely up to individual judges to decide what is fit for their courtrooms.

Newly appointed Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung was asked by the media whether he would disallow people wearing yellow mask in the court. His reply was simply that all colors were admissible - which was a fair response.

But the way the question was put to Cheung was unfair because he was not told about the five letters in small print. So it appears that question was asked out of context, with Cheung being misled by the media.

Although cases in the District Court are not heard before a jury, consider cases that are heard in courtrooms before a jury. Although judges are trained to consider themselves to be blindfolded in order to avoid being influenced by personal likes or dislikes, members of the jury keep their eyes - and their perceptions - wide open.



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