During the protests over the demolition of Queen's Pier in 2007, two of the preservation activists Ho Loy and Chu Hoi-dick filed a judicial review (30-7-2007) against the secretary for home affair's administrative decision on not declaring Queen's Pier as historical monument according to the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance Cap.53. The case was dismissed by the court eventually.
Although they had granted legal aid on August 6, 2007 to cover the cost of the case, the court ruled that they had to pay for the expenses of the government's lawyers prior to legal aid being granted. Their lawyers estimated the amount to be “between several tens of thousands and a hundred something thousand.” Even though they wanted to appeal for the costs order, the Legal Aid Department said that their appeal carried no public interest and rejected their application. They were forced to drop the case.
In July 2009, almost two years later, Chu and Ho received the government's bill over the court fees, the amount was up to HKD270,000 (around USD38,000). ESWN has translated the time line and you can read the breakdown here (via inmediahk):
Chu Hoidick explained the background of the government bill and its chilling effect in his citizen report at inmediahk.net:
大家看看張單，part I的第七項和part II的第八項指出，做這個初步訟費評估只用了五小時。因此，按道理，律政署在零七年十一月十七日，即我和何來放棄就堂費上訴後的短時間內，已經可以計出訟費並開始向我們追討。他們沒有這做，因為他們有酌情權在其認為合適的時間開單，不需要向外界交代。結果他們選擇在二零零九年七月才把這一件只需做五小時的工作完成，接着，律政署可以在六年內的任何時間向我們追討這筆錢，也可以不追我們，也可以向法院申請將我們破產，也可以在過了五年零十一個月後再發一封追債信，將追債期再延長六年，經年的陰影。
There are some speculations on why the government suddenly decided to issue the bill after 2 years. Hoidick wrote:
Chu Hoidick has been involved in the preservation of Choi Yuen Village against the construction of a huge parking site for Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong inter-city rapid train since early February 2009. Last month, the campaign had collected more than 10,000 opposition appeals against the construction plan, but the government dismissed all the appeals with some technical reasons.
Apart from creating a chilling effect, Hoidick also pointed out that the government's action has destroyed the legal aid's principle in protecting citizen's right in monitoring the government through Judicial review:
Blogger Kay Lam compared the repression of preservation activists in Hong Kong and their counterpart, human rights activists in China:
Donald Tsang (the Chief Executive of Hong Kong government) dare you receive the money? Wong Yan-Lung (Head of the Department of Justice) dare you receive the money?
Chong also compared the repression of Gong Meng, a Beijing based group which provides legal assistance to the social minorities, by the China government through the charge of evading tax with the Queen's Pier Judicial Review case:
What makes these two incidents similiar and unusual is money. In the past, coercion is the Beijing government's favourite mean. The Hong Kong government always acts like a lenient authority. Probably now they already make up their mind to learn more from the Singapore government to use money to crackdown on the civil society.
In response to the nasty trick of the government, Facebook user Dorthinick Shepherd created a group, Fight back the 270,000 prosecution, throw a ten dollar coin to the Department of Justice 反擊廿七萬秋后算賬 ，一人十蚊掟響律政署大行動 on 31 of July. The group invites individuals to pledge that they would contribute at least a 10 dollar coin for future action if the government dares to pursue the 270,000 bill. The group statement says:
Within three days, more than 1,395 facebook members have signed up to the group. An email email@example.com has been set up to coordinate the 10 dollar pledge action. Contributors are asked to provide name, phone number and a contribution amount to register for the pledge. Here is Hoidick's initial report (via facebook group):
Aug 3 3pm: 224 people's pledges to contribute 25,564
Aug 3 11am: 125 people's pledges to contribute 16,664
Aug 3 1am: 56 people's pledges to contribute 7,432