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Catching a falling knife

Juridical experts believe it will be difficult for the former Prosecutor-general to find another legal representative in the five-day period granted by the court

After his defence counsel excused itself, it will be difficult for former Prosecutor-general Ho Chio Meng to appoint a lawyer in the five-day period provided due to the complexity of the case, various lawyers have told Business Daily.
On Wednesday, the former top official’s main defence lawyer, Leong Weng Pun, presented the Court of Final Appeal with documents for giving up his job, claiming the court’s judges had treated the defence and the prosecution differently.
According to the defence, that difference in treatment occurred when the presiding judges allowed the prosecution to confront witnesses with documents not included in the accusations, something he claimed wasn’t allowed for the defence.
Fourth months since its beginning the corruption case against the former top official has been suspended for an undefined period of time by the Court of Final Appeal, with Mr. Ho having to find a new representative within a five-day period.
For lawyer Pedro Leal, although Mr. Leong didn’t specifically say the court was being “partial” towards one side, the reason he gave for his decision basically implies that the case is not a “level playing field.”
According to lawyer Miguel Senna Fernandes the imbalance between the “means and guns” available in cases against the Public Prosecutor’s Office is something that has been systemic in the Macau judicial system for a long time and that lawyers that deal with criminal law in the territory are aware of it.
“It is certain that in the judicial system in Macau there is a clear preponderance of the Public Prosecutor’s Office towards defence lawyers – it’s an old issue. On the one side you have the whole machine of the Prosecutor’s Office with all means at its disposal to deduct an accusation, while the defence doesn’t have the same means to oppose it. I’m not questioning the following of the law, just addressing this difference of means,” Mr. Fernandes told Business Daily.
However, the lawyers contacted told Business Daily that while it sometimes happens that lawyers excuse themselves from court cases, they have never seen a case of a lawyer excusing himself claiming different treatment by the court.
“It happens once in a while that the defence excuses itself because there was a break in confidence between the lawyer and his client but it is unusual for the reasons claimed. For this reason I don’t remember any other case in Macau or in Portugal,” lawyer Filipe Figueiredo told Business Daily.

Five days to find help
With the former Prosecutor being accused of almost 1,500 crimes and with the case involving thousands of documents, most lawyers consider it will be hard for Mr. Ho to find a lawyer willing to “jump onto a running train” in the five-day period.
If the former top official doesn’t find a lawyer, the court will appoint one for him, with the law not allowing Mr. Ho to represent himself.
“The Prosecutor is under detention so it will be hard to contact lawyers, and any lawyer that accepts the case will find a very complicated situation. How can he enter such a moving bus at such an advanced period of the trial, study all the documents and get to know all the statements made in court so far?” Mr. Leal remarked to Business Daily.
For Mr. Fernandes losing an appointed lawyer will “always be harmful for the client” since an appointed lawyer “has double the responsibility” of a government appointed lawyer.
“I’m not criticising my colleague or profession, but I think before making this decision the lawyer needs to think very carefully if this decision will be prejudicial to his client. I’ve seen similar situations happen twice – the lawyer starts getting fed up with a conflict situation with the judge or more judges and makes a rash decision, but they have to [consider] if their client’s situation will be better after,” he added.
No date for the resumption of court proceedings has yet been announced with the maximum period of suspension being 30 days.