Jail guards learn cardinal lesson in law at a high cost

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am

'More than 3,000 correctional services officers who took a claim for overtime pay all the way to the Court of Final Appeal - and lost - must pay nearly HK$50 million in legal costs, their union said.'

SCMP, June 25

And now we go to junior class for our civic responsibility lesson for today. Did you know, Johnny, that the purpose of law is to provide employment for lawyers?

You didn't know?

Well, it is, and very lucrative employment, too, as our lawyers in this town have successfully fought off all reforms that would make the pricing of their services transparent and introduce some competition among them. Such reforms, you see, would be inconsistent with the dignity of the law as best exemplified in the wearing of flea-prone 17th century horsehair hats while in court.

And if for some unfathomable reason you still do not entirely understand this, Johnny, then do at least remember that you must not display your ignorance by asking the chief justice how justice can be justice when the costs of justice in settling a minor dispute on overtime pay can go as high as HK$50 million.

These prison guards have only themselves to blame, you must remember. They forgot a cardinal principle of law - De minimis non curat lex - The law doesn't work for a minimum wage.

In a blueprint released yesterday outlining its [Shenzhen's] attempts to remain a 'model city', authorities said that apart from advancing democracy and continuing with reforms, closer links with Hong Kong would also head the government's agenda.

SCMP, June 25

Ilike that bit about 'apart from advancing democracy'. Yes, apart from it indeed, far apart.

And as to the model city bit, Shenzhen is of the sort of model city you normally find depicted at the bottom of a Victorian religious painting, the kind of artwork entitled 'The road to Heaven and the road to Hell.'

Heading the agenda before all other items on that agenda is, of course, the usual demand for intensive development of the Lok Ma Chau Loop, which is not even in Shenzhen but just across the river from it and, aside from being a toxic mud repository, is entirely irrelevant to the development needs of either Hong Kong or Shenzhen.

In their efforts to continue with reforms, would the Shenzhen city fathers care to promote the cause of transparency, as in reveal how many of them have a direct ownership interest in the Lok Ma Chau Loop? I'm listening.

But let's move along. Quoting from our report: 'The proposals include a suggestion by Shenzhen that it would seek Beijing's approval to allow residents from the two cities to enjoy easier exchange of the yuan - although subject to a certain quota - so that Hong Kong could become an 'offshore trading centre' for the currency.'

What considerate people the Shenzhen city fathers are. It is the interests of Hong Kong they have at heart. How heart-warming to know this ... if you believe it.

But there are already many cross-border channels of currency exchange in existence and none of them suffer from being 'subject to a certain quota'.

They are also illegal and making them legal would seriously undermine Beijing's policy of a closed capital account. This suggestion will not go far.

'It is also suggested that Shenzhen should work hard to persuade Beijing to allow the city to lead a pilot programme for mainland individual investment in overseas stock markets - a scheme commonly called the investment through train.'

We were to have such an investment through train in October last year, you may recall, a special investment channel through bank branches in Tianjin. The prospect boosted both the Hong Kong and Shanghai markets to record heights and then someone in Beijing finally started to pay attention to what this could really mean for capital flows.

Almost immediately the channel was closed, the rails were pulled up and the investment through train crashed, along with the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets. Hop on if you want to sit on that train again, but don't expect it to go anywhere.

'Other ideas listed include joint financing of infrastructure ...'

We break for a message to Hong Kong's financial secretary - By all means, take their money if they want to pay for our tunnels and bridges, Mr Tsang, but, please, please, please, don't offer to do the same for them with our money.

'... attracting Hong Kong professionals to Shenzhen ...'

Try starting with relief from a 40 per cent worldwide tax rate on individual incomes.

'... and co-operation in science and technology.'

We have virtually no science and technology on which we don't pay copyright or royalty to others and neither does Shenzhen.

But why bother? When you boil it all down, what Shenzhen wants again is the right to develop the Lok Ma Chau Loop. All the rest is just garnish for the main dish.