'Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials': seminar and book launch

On Friday 28 March 2014, the Bangor Centre for International Law (BCIL) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Rights and Justice held a joint peer-review event in Hong Kong to launch Professor Suzannah Linton’s book on Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials (Oxford University Press). Prof. Linton with the Hon Mr Justice Kevin ZervosProf. Linton with the Hon Mr Justice Kevin Zervos

Professor Linton’s project on Hong Kong’s War Crimes trials uncovered how, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the British military held 46 trials in Hong Kong in which 123 defendants, from Japan and Formosa (Taiwan), were tried for war crimes. The book, which is the culmination of this multi-year project, provides the first comprehensive legal analysis of these trials, and contains chapters by leading experts in the areas of international criminal law and practice, and history. The subject matter of the trials spanned war crimes committed during the fall of Hong Kong, its occupation, and in the period after the capitulation following the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but before the formal surrender. They included killings of hors de combat, abuses in prisoner-of-war camps, abuse and murder of civilians during the military occupation, forced labour, and offences on the High Seas. The events adjudicated included those from Hong Kong, China, Japan, the High Seas, and Formosa (Taiwan). Taking place in the same historical period as the more famous Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, the Hong Kong war crimes trials provide key insights into events of the time, and the development of international criminal law and procedure in this period.

Held at the Chinese University’s Graduate Law Centre in Central Hong Kong, the peer-review book launch seminar was chaired by Professor Christopher Gane, Dean of the A warm reception for the bookA warm reception for the bookFaculty of Law. Professor Linton, who is the Chair of International Law at Bangor and Director of the BCIL, spoke about the five year long project to excavate Hong Kong’s legal history that had been made possible with funding from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council. She discussed the methodological approaches, the main research findings, and concluded with an assessment of this historical process of accountability.  Professor Nina Jørgensen, the Director of the Centre for Rights and Justice at the CUHK Faculty of Law, spoke about her chapter in the book, which examined the ‘chilli pepper’ amongst modes of criminal liability – joint criminal enterprise – comparing that to the form of charging that was used in the Hong Kong trials: being ‘concerned in’ a crime. 

Mr Christopher Munn, Associate Publisher at Hong Kong University Press and a well-known historian, critiqued the book and spoke of how his own work had been enriched by the Hong Kong War Crimes Trials project. He also revealed how the work on these trials will form an essential part of ongoing research to create an official history of the courts in Hong Kong. Mr Stephen Vine, a senior consultant at the local law firm of OLN, spoke about his father, Major Peter Vine, who had been a prosecutor at the Hong Kong trials, and compared that with the 2011 interview that Professor Linton was able to conduct with the late Major Murray Ormsby, a former judge and judge and prosecutor, shortly before he passed away.

Mr Ernest Ng, Barrister-at-law at Parkside Chambers and Mr Dixon Tse, Solicitor and Judicial Assistant at the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, both spoke of their experiences of working as researchers on the project, and presented Hong Kong perspectives including on what happened during the war years under Japanese occupation and the interviews that they participated in.

The Chair then opened the meeting up for a lively discussion, the highlight of which was Mr Colin Banfield sharing the experiences of his father, who had, as an Army officer, advised the Japanese accused at the trials. Finally, Professor Johannes Chan, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, closed the seminar with a critique on the significance of the project, and the importance of appreciating history in Hong Kong.

The book was then formally launched at a reception with an inspiring address by the Hon Mr Justice Kevin Zervos of the Court of First Instance, Hong Kong.

Publication date: 7 April 2014