'Long Hair' calls poll ban over jail terms irrational

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am
 

Lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung and a fellow activist yesterday challenged as unconstitutional a law that bars people with a pending jail term from contesting a Legislative Council election.

Leung argued in the Court of First Instance that the provision, under the Legislative Council Ordinance, strips him of his fundamental right to stand for election.

It also deprived his supporters of their right to vote, which is guaranteed by the Basic Law, said Leung, chairman of the League of Social Democrats.

The law disqualifies anyone from being nominated as an election candidate if they are due to serve, or are serving, a jail term during the nomination or election period.

Lawyers for the government countered that the law was justified because it helped build and maintain public confidence in the legislative process, ensuring that an elected candidate was at liberty and able to take up the seat.

Leung and league member Anson Wong Hin-wai lodged the judicial review because they do not want to lose the chance to run in the Legco election in September because of pending jail terms.

Leung was sentenced to two months in jail for disrupting a consultation forum on a proposal to scrap Legco by-elections last year.

Wong was given two week's imprisonment for disrupting a speech by Transport and Housing Secretary Eva Cheng in April last year, to protest against the MTR Corporation's latest fare increase.

Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon said he would give his decision next Thursday and delay an explanation of his reasoning to a later date.

He was responding to Leung's plea for a quick decision so that the lawmaker could decide whether to serve his prison term so as to allow him to run in the election.

'If I wish to maintain my constitutional right to stand for an election, I would have to give up my right to appeal. Is that reasonable?' Leung asked.

The provision does not apply to those who receive a suspended jail term or are sent to rehabilitation centres.

The provision was irrational, Leung argued, because it imposed a blanket ban irrespective of the length of the jail term and nature of the offence. People facing a short jail term should be exempt from it, he said.

Michael Thomas SC, for the government, said Hongkongers generally had low tolerance for people with a criminal record, and the provision was needed to maintain public confidence in the lawmaking system.

The law was not unreasonably wide nor disproportionate, he said. It drew a 'good, clear bright' line between those whose crimes warranted immediate jail terms and those given community service orders or suspended jail terms.

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