Judicial reviews help government, says justice minister
Judicial review challenges and court decisions have provided the government with 'important and practical guidance', the secretary for justice said yesterday.
'Although defeats in judicial reviews can be hard to swallow immediately, I am convinced, and I know that conviction is shared by many of my colleagues in the government, that the commitment to the high standards of legality, reasonableness and fairness ... will improve public administration,' Wong Yan-lung said.
Speaking on the second day of a conference organised by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Mr Wong said principles laid down by various judicial review decisions were now 'entrenched in the government's thinking process', such as the principle of reasonable decision-making, which 'is being memorised like the multiplication table' by officials.
'The courts have provided the government important and practical guidance in areas where the relevant provisions may not be free from ambiguity, or where specific local legislation does not even exist, in certain areas affecting fundamental rights.'
Nevertheless, he stressed that if judicial review was a barometer of governance, then the government had 'not been doing too badly', winning 80 per cent of challenges in 'recent years'.
On Wednesday, Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang said the growing number of judicial reviews should be viewed in a 'constructive and positive way' by both the public and the government.
Since 2004, there have been just under 150 applications a year for judicial reviews, compared with 29 in 1988. By the end of last month, there had been 118 applications this year. There were 143 last year.
Pan-democratic lawmakers have often criticised Mr Wong for remaining silent on key constitutional debates and urged him take up a more pro-active role in guarding people's rights.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a Civic Party lawmaker, noted that had Mr Wong called for proper legislation for the protection of rights, 'then cases like the ban on inmate voting would not have needed to go to the court in the first place'.
Speaking at the same conference, Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross criticised judicial review applications intended to delay criminal proceedings, noting that 'justice delayed is justice denied'.
A judicial review decision on the constitutionality of the current regime for allocating radio licences will be handed down today.