New World duo to appeal against Legco questioning

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 October, 2009, 12:00am

New World China Land chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun and executive director Stewart Leung Chi-kin will lodge an appeal against a High Court ruling that they should testify before a Legislative Council select committee investigating the company's employment of former housing chief Leung Chin-man.

A notice of appeal has been filed to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to overturn the Court of First Instance's ruling on September 24.

While Cheng and Stewart Leung disavowed the select committee's power to summon them, they were ready to 'voluntarily attend' its next hearing on November 3.

In a statement issued yesterday, their lawyer announced that Cheng and Leung had decided to pursue an appeal after careful consideration.

'This case raises questions of constitutional principle, which are of considerable significance for the rights of Hong Kong people, including the proper interpretation of the scope of the powers of Legco and its committees, and the powers of the courts to supervise Legco committees and to ensure that they do not exceed their terms of reference,' the statement said. 'These important questions require definitive resolution at the highest level.'

Cheng and Leung 'have no desire to disrupt or delay the business of the select committee', it said.

Although they were prepared to testify at the next hearing, 'they wish to make it clear that they do not accept that the committee has any power to compel them to do so', it said.

In their judicial review, the pair argued that the select committee was exercising powers beyond its right. But Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung disagreed, saying in his judgment last month that it was proper for a Legco select committee to summon witnesses and ask probing questions.

Lee Wing-tat, deputy chairman of the 12-member select committee, said he believed the appeal would not affect the inquiry.

'I hope all our inquiry and hearing sessions will proceed as scheduled,' he said.

Lee welcomed the fact that the two witnesses had agreed to attend the next hearing, adding the select committee had the legal power to require them to testify. 'Even if they refuse to come, we can still summon them in accordance with the law.'

The row dates back to 2004, when the government sold the Hunghom Peninsula housing estate to a consortium which included a sister company of New World China Land at a price lower than the market level.

Leung Chin-man, the director of housing at the time, was hired by the firm as its vice-chairman and executive director last year, triggering accusations of a conflict of interest. He resigned after two weeks. The Legco inquiry started in March this year.

Cheng and Stewart Leung have twice testified before the select committee, but later refused to do so and applied for the judicial review in July.