Summer sessions on covert surveillance bill

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Lawmakers have lost the race to avoid working through the summer recess on the government's bill to legalise covert surveillance.

Yesterday, the bills committee examining the measure agreed to call for a special session on August 2 to pass the law.

The committee has completed its clause-by-clause examination of the Interception of Communication and Surveillance Bill but is still considering more than 100 pages of proposed amendments and government responses to issues raised by lawmakers.

To have ensured the bill passed by July 12, when the Legislative Council goes into recess, the committee would have had to finish its discussions by yesterday.

To avoid a legal vacuum, the government must ensure the law is passed by August 8. That is the expiry date of a grace period granted by High Court judge Michael Hartmann when he ruled in February that the current law, and an executive order by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, had no valid legal basis.

Lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Liberal Party had earlier this month voted for a gruelling schedule of meetings lasting eight hours without breaks to avoid the delay.

The government has proposed a host of amendments, ranging from policy concessions to changes in terminology. Among them is a requirement, demanded by lawmakers, for prosecutors to disclose to courts and defence lawyers any covertly obtained information that may help a defendant.

A limited notification system - a key demand of pro-democracy legislators, legal professional bodies and the privacy commissioner - has also been proposed, whereby an independent commissioner may inform victims of bugging or snooping conducted without authorisation. But it falls short of the broader notification requirement some have sought.

The committee meets again today.