No danger of making Bill of Rights U-turn

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 1997, 12:00am

In the Legislative Council on January 23, the Governor Chris Patten, quoted from a speech I made to the council on June 27, 1990.

The section he quoted was as follows: 'It is incumbent upon us as legislators preparing for the effective running of Hong Kong as a special administrative region to ensure that we will entrench essential freedoms in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A Bill of Rights will allow for this in the most expedient manner.' That is indeed what I said on June 27, 1990, and I stand by that statement today. There is no danger of me making a U-turn on my views regarding the importance of the Bill of Rights.

However, in trying to support his case, the Governor was highly selective in his use of quotes and he neglected to tell the public that, in the very same Legco speech, I also expressed reservations about the compatibility of the Bill of Rights with various legislation that was already in place. At the time I was also supporting a call from the Legco ad hoc group studying the bill for a grace period in its enactment to allow a more comprehensive assessment of the implications of the Bill of Rights on existing legislation.

Today, I still have reservations about this issue, especially when looking at the relationship between the Bill of Rights and the Basic Law.

If legal opinion is of the view that the Bill of Rights does indeed override the Basic Law, then the Bill of Rights should be amended to prevent this situation from happening.

The amendments that have been proposed to the Bill of Rights itself are technical and few in number.

However, being amended is very different from being repealed.

No one is suggesting for a moment that the Bill of Rights be repealed.

Even were the proposed amendments to be made on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong would still have a Bill of Rights and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would still be in force in Hong Kong through Article 39 of the Basic Law.

During his research, Mr Patten should also perhaps have gone back to 1989 and the Legislative Council debate on the Second Draft of the Basic Law.

At that time, I said, 'China must have arrangements, or at least on behalf of the HKSAR, to be a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.' I am pleased that, under the Basic Law, the provisions of the covenant will still apply in Hong Kong, and I continue to call on the Chinese Government to become a signatory in its own right.

PAUL CHENG Legislative Councillor