High court reserves decisions on abode seekers hit by 1999 ruling

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am

Emotions ran high yesterday as the city's highest court heard submissions into the fate of the last 14 abode seekers out of about 6,000 affected by a landmark 1999 court ruling that set the Hong Kong courts against the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

The Court of Final Appeal has now reserved its decisions regarding the fate of the 14. They had appealed against the decision of the Director of Immigration to refuse them right of abode after a 1999 reinterpretation, by the Standing Committee, of the Basic Law's provisions regarding permanent residency.

The applicants claimed they had lodged applications for abode before the reinterpretation, which in effect undid the court's judgment in an earlier abode-seeker case - a judgment the government had initially said it would abide by.

It was the first and, so far, only time that Beijing moved to reinterpret provisions of the Basic Law after the Court of Final Appeal had placed its own interpretation on them, and it was a highly controversial issue at the time, in the city and overseas.

Mr Justice Michael Hartmann in the Court of First Instance on January 4 submitted to the Court of Final Appeal his sixth and final report about the outstanding claims.

The judge found in all 14 cases that the necessary steps had not been taken to enable the applicants to apply for right of abode, and recommended that the Court of Final Appeal dismiss their claims.

Yesterday's hearing was the last chance for those people to submit additional information for consideration by the judges. Most emphasised how long they had been awaiting a determination of their status.

'The process of the Immigration Department was so chaotic that I was treated unfairly,' one woman said.

Albert Chen Hung-yee, the Chan professor of constitutional law at the University of Hong Kong, said mistakes were made at the beginning of the case.

'But I think since then the courts have done their best to ensure the applicants were fairly dealt with without negating the effect of the Standing Committee's interpretation,' he said.