Court definition of taking part in riots is broad: SJ

Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng said on Sunday that even though the top court had ruled that one has to be present at a violent scene to be convicted of rioting or taking part in an unlawful assembly, those who facilitate such crimes could still be convicted under other legal principles.

Cheng made the comment after the Court of Final Appeal ruled last week that the legal doctrine of “joint enterprise” cannot be applied to those who are not physically present at a riot or an unlawful assembly.

In a blog entry to “assist the general public in learning the legal principles set out in the judgment”, Cheng reminded the public that people who facilitate, assist or encourage others at the assembly are still criminally liable.

She said the top court’s interpretation of “taking part” is broad: “while mere presence does not make a person guilty, it does not take a great deal of activity to move from mere presence to encouragement, such as by words, signs or gestures, or by wearing the badge or ensign of the rioters.”

Cheng added that the court has made clear that public order can be “fully enforced relying on secondary liability and inchoate offences”.

“Those masterminds who remotely oversee and give commands, fund or provide materials for the unlawful assembly or riot, encourage or promote it on social media, provide back-up support to participants such as collecting bricks, or act as lookouts may either be “taking part” as principals or liable as aiders and abettors if present at the scene; or, if not present, liable as counsellors or procurers,” Cheng wrote.

The minister also quoted an example cited in the judgment that suspects could be liable under the doctrine of “extended joint enterprise”, if they agreed to take part in a riot while “knowing” some among them would bring petrol bombs, and proceed with using them to cause serious injury.