Rights bill plea rejected in land battle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 March, 1998, 12:00am

Human rights laws cannot be used by a company fighting a government decision approving the building of roads on its land, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

In the first case of its kind in Hong Kong, Ma Wan Farming Ltd failed to persuade the judges the Bill of Rights applied to the decision made by the Governor in Council.

The company argued it had been deprived of a fair and public hearing by an independent tribunal as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Bills of Rights.

Mr Justice Gerald Nazareth said: 'The importance and implications of what is at stake may be thought to be of some moment.' He admitted it would seem 'absurd' if the safeguards relating to a fair trial were limited to 'the determination of private rights in court proceedings'.

The judge added that this was 'all the more so given the huge scale on which encroachment upon private rights and obligations are increasingly determined by administrative and executive decisions'. But the court ruled that in the circumstances of this case the company could not make use of the Bill of Rights.

Mr Justice Benjamin Liu Tsz-ming said the company's prime concern had been to get a better deal for its land.

The 1996 decision of the Governor in Council was only a preliminary measure. If the Chief Executive ordered the company to give up its land then it would have the right to an independent hearing in the Lands Tribunal.

Mr Justice Liu Tsz-ming said the landowner had already been able to put forward its views in an unsuccessful challenge to the decision in the Court of First Instance. The Court of Appeal had refused to overturn that ruling.

Ma Wan Farming Ltd felt aggrieved that the plans for the building of roads on its land on Ma Wan Island, between Tsing Yi and Lantau, had been approved despite its objections. The plans formed part of a Sun Hung Kai development which has now been shelved because of the economic recession.

Mr Justice Nazareth said there was a lack of legal precedents on the issue raised by the case and the judges had used decisions made by the European Court and European Commission on Human Rights.