Government 'economical with truth' on law papers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 12:00am

A prominent lawyer yesterday accused the Government of distorting events and being 'economical with the truth' over the derailing of plans to open a Basic Law Library on July 1.

Alan Hoo, SC, chairman of the Basic Law Institute, said he was astounded when he saw a press statement released by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) on Friday.

The South China Morning Post reported on Friday that plans to launch the library on July 1 had collapsed because of government concerns that many of the documents to be displayed were state secrets.

The LCSD statement made no mention of the secrets issue and said the postponement was because the institute, responsible for collecting the documents, had not yet handed them over.

'This is a complete distortion of events and constitutes a deliberate attempt to be economical with the truth,' said Mr Hoo.

He asked the department, responsible for the Central Library where the documents were to be displayed, to state whether or not it was concerned about the classified nature of the papers. If it had no such concerns, said Mr Hoo, he would send the documents immediately so they could be put on the shelves on July 1.

But if the Government was worried the papers may be state secrets and this was the reason for the delay then 'I demand that there be a proper correction to their statement and a confirmation of the true state of affairs', he added.

He said the institute, a non-governmental organisation which signed an agreement with the LCSD last year to establish the library, may no longer feel able to work with the department.

'I feel extremely sad and grossly disappointed with the LCSD statement, and unless they are prepared to tell the truth, I and fellow members of the institute feel it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work with the LCSD on the project,' Mr Hoo added.

The institute said yesterday the LCSD had informed it at a meeting on May 8 that it was not prepared to display documents bearing classified markings until clearance was provided by the Constitutional Affairs Bureau. The institute added that the bureau informed the meeting this was unlikely to be achieved by July 1.

A spokeswoman for the LCSD said she stood by the press release. She accepted that there was a need for the documents to be cleared by the bureau but added: 'I must stress that we have not been given the materials. Once we are given the materials, we can start the clearance procedure.'

The spokeswoman said she was not able to comment on whether the postponement was because the institute had been informed at the May 8 meeting that clearance was unlikely in time for the July 1 opening.

Attempts are now being made by the institute to have the documents, from committees responsible for drafting and implementing the Basic Law, made available to the public elsewhere.

Johannes Chan, the new dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Hong Kong, said he had been approached.

'I am certainly interested in housing this set of documents and making them available,' said Mr Chan. He was not concerned about Government suggestions some may be state secrets. 'They are of constitutional importance. It is a matter of principle. I do not think they can be state secrets.

'My personal view is that it must be right that there should be available to the public a full set of properly documented drafting documents of the Basic Law,' he said.

Mr Chan said the documents were likely to be important aids to interpreting various parts of the Basic Law.

The idea of displaying them at the university will be further considered.