New rule allowing closed-door court appeals attacked
The government has come under fire for allowing closed-door court hearings when appeals are brought by organisations that have been banned under the proposed national security laws.
Prominent lawyers have also challenged provisions that would allow such cases to go ahead in the absence of group leaders and their legal representatives, arguing that this might breach the Basic Law.
During the three-month consultation period on government proposals for the laws, which ended in December, the Security Bureau sought to calm fears by assuring the public there would be an appeal process for groups that are banned.
The blue bill made public on Thursday allows such appeals to be taken to court, rather than the special tribunals that were originally proposed. But it also empowers the chief justice to make rules that provide for some cases to be held behind closed doors, and for those bringing the appeal to be barred from the hearing if necessary.
These rules could also see the legal representatives of the organisations banned from the court. The government's aim is to ensure that any sensitive or secret information that may arise during the course of the appeal is kept out of the public domain.
The court may appoint a different legal practitioner to act in the interests of the banned group if necessary.
Speaking during an RTHK programme, the former chairman of the Bar Association, Alan Leong Kah-kit, said the mechanism was against Article 35 of the Basic Law, which guarantees the right to representation before the courts.
In a separate press conference with the Article 23 Concern Group, which includes prominent lawyers and academics, Mr Leong added: 'One can't even have access to what evidence the prosecution side has given. This is something that Hong Kong has never heard of.'
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, another former Bar Association chief, said the law already had safeguards to prevent sensitive information being divulged.
'It's true that [even without the security laws] the court can conduct parts of the proceedings behind closed doors. But both sides in the case have access to the details.'
He said it was also unreasonable for banned groups to have a legal representative imposed on it, with its representatives not allowed to be present.
Referring to the recent conviction of Chinese dissident Wang Bingzhang behind closed doors in Shenzhen, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee - who represents the legal profession in Legco - questioned why the government wanted such a power.
On banning groups subordinate to proscribed mainland organisations, Ms Eu said she was worried that one of the definitions of 'subordinate' was receiving substantial financial sponsorship or support.
'The definition is very loose. Funding of $10,000 might already be substantial to some non-government groups,' she said.
Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, defending the arrangements for appeal hearings, pointed out that it would be up to the chief justice to decide on rules of procedure.
'It is entirely up to him to decide whether the rules are needed,' she said on a radio phone-in programme.
She maintained that the court should have the power to protect sensitive intelligence or information affecting national security from being divulged.
She said some newspapers had sensationalised the issue by producing a scenario of secret trials, which may have frightened some people. But she added that such a mechanism had also been adopted by Britain and Canada and had been tested in the European court of human rights.
Executive Councillor Andrew Liao Cheung-sing said he believed the top judge would consider standards of human rights when deciding whether to exercise such power.
He said the appointment of legal representatives for the appellant was an additional safeguard to ensure his or her interests would be taken care of.