PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2007, 12:00am

Common law standpoint a misconception

In 'Fudging the law of the land' (May 1), Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee refers to the Basic Law and alleges that Article 5 limits the term of land grants which the government could legitimately make under Article 7.

Ms Ng claims that Article 7, which says 'the government of [the] Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be responsible for their management, use and development and for their lease or grant to individuals, legal persons or organisations for use or development', is not explicit enough. She grumbles that a 'government respecting the rule of law should work on a better answer' for those who query the legality of entitlements on land granted beyond 2047.

While Ms Ng baulks before suggesting a better answer for the executive branch of the government, she seems satisfied with Article 8's general preservation of 'the common law' and 'customs', leaving the judiciary to make rulings with consequences that go beyond 2047; such as the land entitlements of indigenous villagers in the New Territories and the late Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum's estate, which includes properties with leases spanning 2047.

What about Letters A and B, the administrative instruments of land entitlements that have been in use for decades?

Ms Ng's reference to former governor Sir Murray MacLehose's 1980 visit to China is irrelevant. The real purpose of that visit was to ascertain the legality of Britain's lease over the New Territories, a sovereignty issue, not petty legalistic hair-splitting over people's homeownerships.

It appears that Ms Ng represents some in our legal profession who mistakenly believe the rule of law dictates that the Basic Law should operate under common law, and not the other way round. Their talent may better serve the public if applied to looking for ways to improve the government's judicial branch.

Audrey Lam, Mid-Levels

Mired in pedantry

The intellectual imbroglio evidenced in Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee's 'Fudging the law of the land' is symptomatic of common-law pedantry. For one thing, while she is right about landed property 'being the bedrock of the common law system', she was lawyerly oblivious of the common law's reprehensible history, which defeats her intended advocacy for a larger role for common law in the run-up to 2047.

From its inception, common law has always been the law of the propertied class. When the Duke of Normandy became William the Conqueror in 1066, and consequentially Britain's largest landowner, he instituted common law, Britain's first unitary legal system, by sending circuit judges round the country not to administrate justice, but to establish the king's peace.

While law ever so gradually began to replace battles as the means to settle disputes among feudal lords, common law was tailored to do the propertied-class' bidding.

The Basic Law provides a 50-year lease for Hong Kong's 'capitalist system'. However, it does not necessarily follow, as Ms Ng asserts, that 'mainland law and the socialist system will apply' after 2047. However, if Hong Kong's common-law courts fail to abide by the human rights principles enshrined in the Basic Law - which guarantee equality before the law and fair hearing - then the sooner the better that they are replaced by Basic Law courts which operate on human rights principles without bewigged judges.

Cynthia Sze, Quarry Bay

Sheltered life

Paul Zimmerman's article, 'Pier pressure and the route to harmony' (May 4), fails to point out that it is not the pier that would be preserved; it is the shelter adjoining it. Is a shelter next to the pier worth preserving if there is no water beside it?

Besides, if you look closely at the structure, you can see the columns are some sort of stucco-concrete. If you take a drill to it, it will crumble.

You couldn't just put it in boxes and build it again later. You'd have to reproduce it, and really, there's no point.

Simon Osborne, Sheung Wan

A political slant

Isabel Escoda's letter, 'Pontificating on private matters' (May 3), claims that abortion is a personal matter, but is it?

When I was in the womb, my chances of being aborted were close to zero. Those in the womb now have an up to 50 per cent chance, or higher, of being aborted, depending on where they are. The difference is a result of legislation, and laws are made by politicians. It seems to follow that abortion is a political, as well as a personal, matter.

Paul Flynn, Clear Water Bay

Force of gravity

How remarkable that a bullet fired into the air by police in Macau might fall back to Earth and hit someone.

Where do the police force think that bullets go if they fire them into the air in an urban environment? To the moon perhaps?

What message is a crowd supposed to infer from the sound of gunshots? Logically: 'You are all going to be shot unless you stop causing a hullabaloo'.

And we call ourselves civilised.

Simon Park, Central

Shameful waste of animals' lives

During the past few weeks, some animal concern groups and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department have been exchanging acrimonious barbs online and in the media. The AFCD is blamed for being cruel and abusive to water buffalos, monkeys, wild pigs and dogs.

Animal concern groups are accused of being sensationalist and destructive and have been restricted from an AFCD Animal Management Centre where they were able to select animals that they could re-home. As a result, more dogs and cats must be put down while some officials within the combatant groups look on as animals die unnecessarily.

The inherent contradiction of what is actually going on - in contrast to the pronouncements of the AFCD adverts on television, radio, billboards, buses and posters, and that of animal welfare group constitutions, charters, promotional materials and adverts - in the 'world' city of 'life' is shameful.

As a former executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I know first hand how caring officials at AFCD and animal concern groups are - and how they can work together for the welfare of abandoned dogs and cats. Why can't they work together harmoniously and practise what they preach, so that more innocent dogs and cats, senselessly abandoned and needlessly being killed by the government, can find caring homes and live?

Pauline Taylor, group managing director, Pets Central

In bad taste

No one can fail to see that the letter 'Death wish granted' ( May 2), written by Winston Chu Ka-sun in his capacity as adviser to the Society for Protection of the Harbour, was intended to be cynical. Even so, it is extremely bad taste to allude, in such a light-hearted manner as he did, to the 'good news for those who wish to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases and to die from lung cancer or pneumonia'.

Has he ever considered the feelings of those with such illnesses, or of their friends and relatives?

Ng Hon-wah, Pok Fu Lam