Monday, May 5, 2014

Self defense in a civilized city such as Hong Kong

When I was a kid, Hong Kong was not a safe city. Young people learned martial arts to protect themselves. Fights were common. Mugging in dark corners was the rule rather than the exception. I was living in rougher part of town when I was young. And my youthful friends always joked that it would be news if there was a family in our vicinity that did not have at least one member ever mugged under knife point. Even when going to a cinema in a busy district, honest kids had to be careful not to be pushed to a corner in the foyer and being asked for a few bucks. In darker corners, gangsters might simply just jump out and gave a lone-walker a number of punches (for the well-built victims, minor knife cuts could be the precursor) before mugging him.

I am sure there are still many places like this around the world now. No more like this in Hong Kong. The city is almost as safe as Japan. Self defense has a different meaning.

A few days ago I read an interesting piece of news of a court case under which two men fought in a restaurant. Both were hurt. The prosecutor charged both of them fighting in public. One guy (Mr. A) pleaded guilty and was fined HK$2,000. The other guy (Mr. B) pleaded not guilty, arguing self-defense, and therefore had to appear for trial in front of a magistrate who would deliberate a judgment after hearing all evidence presented by the prosecutor and the accused.

There was no disagreement on the fact of the case: The case happened in a restaurant serving tourists from mainland China. In a table, a tourist (Mr. A), apparently after drinking some alcohol, lighted a cigarette during his meal. It was illegal to smoke in a restaurant otherwise both the restaurant and the offender will be fined (when caught by a smoke prevention inspector). Apparently a waiter of the restaurant alerted a lady tour guide who came to the man and asked him to stop smoking. Mr. A was furious. He used abusive language, pushed the lady tour guide and seemingly wanted to assault her. A male tour guide (Mr. B) came to her rescue. Mr. A was more furious. He wanted to assault Mr. B but was stopped by his fellow tourists. Some time later, when Mr. B was backed to his table eating, Mr. A suddenly came to him, pushed him on the wall and started punching him at his face. Scuffle ensured. Mr. B managed to pick up a ceramic tea cup to strike (and break) the head of Mr. A who returned with his own attack of ceramics which missed their marks.

The police came and arrested Mr. A and Mr. B. Both were charged with fighting in public and to be appeared in a magistrate’s court. In all fairness, the magistrate in this case gave a verdict satisfactory to all standers-by. Mr. B was acquitted for acting in self defense and for not having used undue violence when protecting himself.

From the legal point of view, Mr. B has to prove two things, firstly he has acted in self defense and secondly he has not overly used violence. When the verdict for Mr. B was out, more people were being alerted to the incidence. Some netizens were angered by the lenient punishment made towards the assaulter. Only HK$2,000 fine for smoking in public AND beating up a fellow citizen. Smoking in public alone demands a HK$1,500 fine, that means assaulting someone carried a fine of HK$500. More or less the sentiment.

The magistrate however has little choice. The prosecutor’s case of fighting in public place is a much lesser offense than assaulting a citizen in public place without provocation. Has the police or prosecutor being lenient to Mr. A because he was a tourist not familiar with HK law? Is it because they (p and p) thought Mr. A has already got his lesson with his head smashed? Or is it because it is now the tendency for them (p and p) to relegate most decisions to the court? Nobody knows, but common citizens have to live with this new fact of life.

Lesson to learn: martial art teachers teaching the self-defense stuff should be on top of the current legal environment, and therefore plan their systems and advise their students accordingly, in order that their students will not end up in greater trouble defending themselves in unavoidable conflict situations.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...