A Death in Hong Kong

An evolving essay and insight into medicine and the law in contemporary Hong Kong (part two).

The death of a young person. A fit and healthy person. A person for whom adult life has only just begun. That is a cruel death. And when that death can be reasonably attributed to a gross failure of the provision of the expected standard of duty of care of a professional person, it becomes a crime.

I wrote my report as was requested. It was fair. But it must have been a significant problem for the legal team representing the doctors involved in the death of Zoey Leung. I was asked to read out the report in the coroner’s court, paragraph by paragraph. I was also asked to read out my concerns about the “dangerous lack of clinical governance in the private health care sector in Hong Kong.” When the sombre barrister representing the government had finished taking me through my report I was up for cross examination. I was ready. There was no ambiguity in my report. No attempt to deceive. Opinions based on many years of experience and simply expressed. The cross examinations could find no weak spot. There were several barristers representing different factions in the case.  Were the emergency services negligent for not having first responders trained in intubation? Was that the cause of death? Certainly not. And then we came to the barrister representing the celebrity cosmetic surgeon. He was full of self-importance and played the game of cat and mouse with facts and fantasy. He managed to reveal that the dosages of lignocaine used were even higher than those I had detailed in my report. Perhaps to recover from his own goal he began an attempt to confuse with timings and dosages and figures. I was patient but in the end I had enough. “This is not a game. We are here to find out why a young girl died”.

When I had called out the barrister for making a mockery of the law, the deflated soul had looked to the bench of his instructing solicitors, and there was David Kan from Reid Smith Richards Butler, half rising and beckoning with his hand, a gesture, tapping down, STOP. Get out of there. Do not mess with him. I wonder how much the Medical Protection Society was paying for this shameful performance?

The Coroner adjourned the inquest “indefinitely” and referred the matter to the Department of Justice. For David Kan and his senior partner Chris Howse this gave some breathing space. I do not know when David and Chris realised they were in deep trouble. They had provided two reports from experts which were flawed, unethical and unprofessional (these have been deconstructed in previous blog posts). Most probably the best of a bunch of “unhelpful” reports that again would have cost the MPS a significant amount of money.

I had met Chris and David some years before when they were with Richards Butler. A Doctor of Philosophy, Dr PK Lam had rather confounded universal patent law by asserting that he had confidential information related to his patented process that he could not release. For those who do not appreciate the idiocy of this statement, let me explain that when something is being patented it is essential to give the complete details of the process so that the commercialisation can be protected. There are no secrets, no confidential information in a patent application. Lam’s partner Eric Chan sued both myself and my boss, Professor Andrew van Hasselt, for harassment and claimed commercial loss. It was absolute nonsense. I was a member of the Medical Protection Society, so I contacted them for advice and legal representation. The MPS is based in London, UK and they instructed a local firm of solicitors to act on my behalf, there was a choice of two, Richards Butler (RB) or Johnson Stokes and Master (JSM). My boss wanted to go with JSM so I went with RB. And so the pantomime began. I realise now that this is the typical dysfunction of the legal system. The solicitors grasp the cases and then file them. This is insurance work. This is steady income. I spent hours and hours preparing documents, reports, strategy plans for the solicitors and in the end I gave up on David Kan and Chris Howse and joined my boss with JSM. In the end, an obscene amount of money was paid to a senior counsel who “spoke without notes, or rest or interruption” for over an hour and a half and persuaded the Honourable Judge that there was no merit in the case. Of course, there was no merit in the case. But both I and my boss had to endure three years of living with obscene rants on the Public Doctors Association Forum and filth in the Yellow Press. I did get a letter from Dr Barker of the MPS saying that all was well and barring a late appeal we should consider the matter closed. If there was no merit in the case three years after the writ was filed, why not at the time it was filed? Who has benefited from that delay? Certainly not the Medical Protection Society.

When I saw David Kan in that courtroom I knew that this was the Chris and Dave team, out of their depth and ready to compromise professionalism, the law and ethics in their pursuit of money. I had this friend in Hong Kong who was a good lawyer or a “pain in the neck” depending on your perspective. He was the type of person who would get into an argument about an afternoon café tea receipt that did not distinguish between a pot of tea and two cups and two cups of tea. He was not very successful and was hoping to get into Chris’s new firm. He told me, and this is absolute hearsay, that Chris did not know much about medico-legal work but he was an excellent business manager, with the nickname “Bill-able hours.”

That was fine until, as will be revealed, what is ‘ethical’ and ‘professional’ did not always go along with ‘billable’. There is an interesting comment from an ex-employee of HWB: “My advice to the partners of Howse Williams Bowers: It’s nice we could work at an awesome office like Princes Building, but please don’t sacrifice your employees for profit. Great employees will make great service and great service usually makes more profit.” – Anonymous 27.9.2014 (http://stealjobs.com/howse-williams-bowers%E5%BE%8B%E5%B8%AB%E8%A1%8C/ Accessed 8 Dec 2016).

Andrew Burd (Prof)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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