Talks reopen on Court of Final Appeal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 1995, 12:00am

BRITAIN and China are to resume talks on the Court of Final Appeal today, raising hopes for an early blessing from Beijing before London has to move unilaterally on the court plan as early as next month.

In a joint announcement, the two governments yesterday said expert teams from the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) would meet again in the territory today.

The last time they met was September 1991.

Director of Administration Richard Hoare revealed today's meeting was arranged at the suggestion of Zhao Jihua, leader of the Chinese team on the JLG, on Wednesday.

British JLG leader Hugh Davies agreed to the meeting.

'We responded positively. We don't know what they have in mind. They have raised 17 questions on the bill so far. It's difficult to determine what their concerns are,' he said.

One source said the Chinese side is to raise questions over the jurisdiction and qualification of appeal court judges.

The source said provisions in the latest draft bill on the court concerning the jurisdictions and qualifications of the judges might not in line with the relevant articles in the post-1997 charter.

Mr Hoare said an agreement after one expert meeting would be 'unprecedented'.

'At least we can enter a serious and productive dialogue and have an idea of what their concerns are.' Mr Hoare said Chinese consent on the court had to be secured in the upcoming JLG session in two weeks' time so the bill could pass the Legislative Council at its current session. The Government has hinted that it might have to table the bill in Legco after the Easter break in mid-April. It gave a draft to the Chinese in May last year. It was later revised and sent to Beijing in late January.

Yesterday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated clearly that 'China is not willing to see the British side take unilateral action on the issue before the two sides reach agreement'.

Spokesman Shen Guofang said the bill must be in line with the JLG agreement in 1991 and the relevant provisions in the Basic Law.

The two sides agreed in 1991 to limit the number of overseas judges sitting on the court, to one, triggering criticism from Legco and the legal profession, who said the move violated the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

Headed by JLG member Alan Paul, the British team includes Mr Hoare and Deputy Solicitor-General Robert Allcock. The Chinese team is led by Chen Zuo'er.

Governor Chris Patten was not sure 'what the differences are' between the two sides.'It would help to confirm views about future commitment to the rule of law if we were able to co-operatein establishing the Court of Final Appeal, which everyone knows is one of the foundation stones for Hong Kong's prosperity and stability,' he said.