The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been told to pay its costs for a bungled prosecution of a prominent Hong Kong lawyer and politician. 

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu was cleared of all allegations by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a five-day hearing in December. The allegations related to comments made in Cantonese during and after a public meeting in Hong Kong. 

After dismissing all charges, the tribunal made no order as to costs. This effectively leaves the SRA to pay its own £65,000 costs, while Ho must bear the brunt of the £130,000 costs he had applied for.

The SRA’s case was based on translations of what was said at the meeting, the first of which had to be revised to a version the regulator accepted was ‘slightly more nuanced’. The tribunal found ‘significant differences’ between the text eventually relied upon by the SRA and the text of the original version, and concluded that the first translation had been ‘defective’.

The tribunal concluded: ‘[Ho] had successfully defended all allegations, and had conducted the proceedings reasonably. The [SRA] had failed to obtain a translation which was fit for purpose on which to base its Rule 12 statement. The tribunal considered that in the circumstances of this case the [SRA] should bear its own costs.’

The tribunal had heard that Ho was admitted in 1997 but has never held a practising certificate in England and Wales and is now a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong.

He had attended a political meeting in Hong Kong in 2017 during which he interjected during the speaker’s address. The parties agreed on the words spoken but not on the interpretation of what was said. 

The SRA alleged that Ho’s remarks supported and reinforced comments made by the speaker which could be interpreted as meaning that political opponents should be killed.

Ho submitted that the case was made by interpreting his words from the literal meanings of individual Chinese characters, rather than on a nuanced understanding of idiomatic Chinese. It was clear, he said, that statements were not to be taken literally and were understood as such by the audience.

The tribunal accepted that the comments may be capable of causing offence, but did not accept that the solicitor was calling or supporting calls for opponents to be killed.