Law Society now backs review by Beijing: deputy
But body's president says it is preferable for courts to decide
The Law Society appears to have changed its position on the NPC Standing Committee's interpretation of the Basic Law on the chief executive's term, and now says it is urgently needed to ensure the election proceeds smoothly.
Society vice-president Lester Huang said yesterday the legal basis for the interpretation was contained within the Basic Law itself. He made the statement after a meeting in Beijing with Zhang Xiaoming , deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
The society previously maintained that the successor to a chief executive who vacates his seat prematurely should serve a full five-year term, and any interpretation of the relevant provisions in the mini-constitution would be unnecessary.
But Mr Huang, who is leading a Law Society delegation to Beijing, yesterday said there was an urgent need for an interpretation of the Basic Law as the election for the next chief executive would be held on July 10.
Asked whether the body would continue to oppose the interpretation by the Standing Committee, he said: 'Now that the interpretation of the Basic Law is proceeding, we will not oppose the interpretation in principle if it is conducted in accordance with the legal basis.'
But Law Society president Michael Lintern-Smith said last night that the solicitors' body stood by its view that an interpretation was unnecessary and that the Basic Law was clear on the length of the next chief executive's term.
'[Mr Huang] was asked whether seeking an NPC interpretation was legal and he said 'of course it is legal' and he was asked if the Law Society would oppose it and he said it would not oppose it as it was already happening.
'But he and the Law Society maintain that it would be preferable if the issue had been resolved through the courts.'
Mr Lintern-Smith said the decision to refer the matter to the NPC was a 'politician's choice and not for the Law Society to decide'.
On March 18 the society said the provisions contained in Article 46 of the Basic Law were unambiguous. It would therefore be incorrect to apply any meaning to its provisions other than that which was readily apparent, it added.
In a column in the April edition of the Law Society's publication The Hong Kong Lawyer, society Mr Lintern-Smith wrote that Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie's assertion that the Basic Law should be interpreted according to Chinese law principles and not common law principles was disturbing.
The Standing Committee is scheduled to decide on the draft interpretation today when its four-day meeting ends. The draft states that a successor to a chief executive who leaves office prematurely would only serve the remainder of the preceding leader's term.
Alan Leong Kah-kit, a legislator from the Article 45 Concern Group, said the Law Society had softened its stance on the interpretation by the Standing Committee. 'I don't understand why the Law Society now agrees to the move because the interpretation is proceeding'.