Some are more equal than others

Two recent court cases appear to underline the truth of George Orwell’s immortal line "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Let’s first look at what the guilty parties were convicted of. The defendant of the first case pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer (her third such conviction, by the way), careless driving and refusing to take a breathalyzer test. The defendant of the second case pleaded guilty to drink-driving, careless driving, driving without a license, taking a conveyance without authority and using a vehicle without third-party insurance.

How about the sentence? In the first case, the sentence was one-year probation, a one-year driving ban and a fine of HKD8,000. In the second case, the sentence was 150 hours of community service, a one-year ban from applying for a driving license and a fine of HKD12,000. In other words, no jail terms. And for such serious offences as drink-driving (which runs the risk of causing injury and death to innocent people) and assaulting a police officer (look at how some protestors in demonstrations have been charged and convicted of this offence and thrown into jail) too.

And the rationale? Apparently, besides the seriousness of the nature of the offences, it appears to have a lot to do with the defendant’s background and what family he or she was born into. The magistrate of the first case said this of the defendant: “She has a clear background and was born into a good family with caring parents. She also has an outstanding academic record.” The magistrate of the second case also referred to the defendant’s good background and academic results.

So what are the backgrounds of these defendants which have played such a key role in determining what sentence they received? The defendant in the first case is the niece of a Court of Final Appeal judge. The defendant in the second case is the son of a director of a listed company. Not only that, the latter was also able to produce mitigation letters from well-known figures such as a Basic Law Committee member and a former lawmaker.

So if someone in Hong Kong happens to be in trouble with the law, whether he or she is well-to-do and well-connected can make a world of difference.

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