No constitutional right to filibuster, judge rules
Austin Chiu and Tony Cheung
Lawmakers do not enjoy a constitutional right to filibuster, a High Court judge ruled as he explained why he refused to review Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing's controversial decision to halt a prolonged debate.
Court of First Instance judge Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon also ruled that the Legco president had the power under the Basic Law to take action to ensure the proper running of the council.
Lam was giving reasons for his rejection last week of an application by 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, a League of Social Democrats legislator, for a judicial review of Tsang's move to invoke for the first time powers in Legco's rules of procedure to halt debate on a bill to curb by-elections after 361/2 hours.
Leung (pictured) wanted the court to impose a temporary injunction freezing Tsang's decision.
'Of course,' Lam wrote, 'one must also safeguard the right of the minority to express their opinions. But it would be absurd to elevate the right to express opinions to a constitutional right to filibuster.'
The judge said the purpose of Leung and his fellow legislators Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan Wai-yip in debating the 1,300 amendments they proposed was not the proper expression of their views but to debate indefinitely so as to obstruct the lawmaking process.
Lam held that the president had constitutional powers to deal with 'irrelevant, repetitious or vexatious' debates and had a duty to 'ensure that proper conduct of business in the legislative council is not derailed'.
Lam pointed out that Tsang allowed the debate to continue for another three hours after legislator Philip Wong Yu-hong moved a motion to end it.
Lam asked for submissions on who would pay court costs.
Leung said he would discuss with his lawyers whether to appeal.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party decided to seek a vote of no confidence in Tsang. Vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the party was convinced Tsang had exceeded his powers in halting the filibuster, and its members could not trust him any more. 'A committee met last month to discuss Legco's rules, and no one mentioned that the president has such powers,' Lau said.
'Tsang has now agreed to attend the next meeting of the committee to respond to our accusations, and this should be open to the public.' According to convention, the committee usually meets behind closed doors to discuss Legco's rules.