Consultation on Article 23 law dismissed as 'fake'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:00am

The drafting process for the proposed anti-subversion law has already started, even though public consultation is still in progress, the security chief said yesterday.

The revelation stirred uproar among lawmakers and legal experts, who said it was proof the government was not willing to listen to public opinion and that the consultation was 'fake'.

A spokeswoman for Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said it was necessary to prepare the draft and that such measures were no different from any other legislative proposals.

Answering a question in Legco yesterday by Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan on the proposed law to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law, Mrs Ip said the government had already begun the process for drafting the bill.

The three-month consultation on the proposal - which aims to ban acts such as treason, sedition, subversion and theft of state secrets - only began a month ago.

The legal sector and human rights groups have long criticised the consultation paper as being too vague and have called for a 'white bill' to be published, allowing for more detailed scrutiny.

While again refusing to publish a draft bill on the grounds that the law is not complicated and technical, Mrs Ip said the government hoped to table the bill in February.

'We do not have a draft bill yet, but we are working on drafting instructions,' Mrs Ip said.

This step is the first in the law-drafting process and gives Justice Department draftsmen instructions on what to include in the bill. Lawmakers, however, accused the government of starting the process too early.

'This has proved that it was a fake consultation and the government was not interested in listening to public views,' Mr Ho said. 'Otherwise, how can she decide what principles to be included in the bill?'

Independent lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said: 'This is a very bad move because starting the drafting process so early means very little can be changed later.'

Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said: 'The consultation must be completed before you start finalising the drafting instructions if you want to include the public's view in the basic policy directions.'

Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who represents the legal sector, said: 'Some spirits must have been at work to force Mrs Ip to reveal the government's bad tactics.'

But Mrs Ip's press secretary, Brenda Chan, said officials had only been working within the bureau and would not send instructions to the Justice Department before the consultation period ends. 'We are definitely not seeking to ignore the views of the public because we will alter the instructions accordingly after the consultation.'

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, of the University of Hong Kong's law faculty, agreed that details could be changed later, but he urged the government to issue a white bill.