SCMP Thursday, June 21, 2001

Abode family avoids jail after mercy pleas


A couple and their son who lied to the Immigration Department in an attempt to be reunited won their appeal to avoid jail yesterday after a judge took into account pleas for mercy.
Deputy Judge Judianna Barnes Wai-ling suspended the three-month jail sentences of Li Yik-ming, 22, Li Hon-piu, 51, and Cheng So-mei, also 51, for two years, saying she was satisfied their situation was one where the court could temper justice with mercy.
The Court of First Instance heard the family had lied by claiming Li Yik-ming was 16 because they had heard a false rumour circulating on the mainland at the time of the 1997 handover that children aged 16 or under had automatic right of abode in the SAR. The lie was detected in 1999 when the son, who had been sent back to the mainland, returned and applied for right of abode using his real birth date.
Deputy Judge Barnes said written pleas for clemency from a bishop, three legislators, two council members and a group of 180 abode-seekers "cannot and should not be pushed aside".
Counsel for the family, Michael Poll, said he had tendered the letters to show that sentences imposed should reflect views of the public, particularly those at grassroots level.
Mr Poll said the bare bones of the case did not show the tragedy of the family's situation. The court heard Li Hon-piu arrived from the mainland in 1984 and was granted permanent status in 1991.
Cheng was only allowed to join her husband in 1995 and Li Yik-ming remained on the mainland.
The mother, who suffers from rheumatism, now works as a cleaner from 7.30am to 10pm to support the family because her husband has health problems and her son is barred from working in the SAR while his application for right of abode is being considered.
Mr Poll said the family would lose their government home if they were sent to jail. It was only after exhausting all legal channels that the "simple peasants" had acted on the rumour and committed the offence.
Deputy Judge Barnes found Magistrate Peter White had erred in handing down the prison sentence in February last year when he concluded the offence was prevalent and warranted a deterrent element.
In granting the family their appeal against the sentence, the judge said she was not blind to the fact those applying for Hong Kong residency faced a long wait but said that was no excuse to "jump the queue".
"While I can appreciate the anguish caused by family separation and the strong desire for a reunion, the court cannot be seen to condone such unlawful behaviour," she said.