Colonial statutes that appear beyond reason

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 2010, 12:00am

Reading Hong Kong's statutes is like taking a trip down memory lane - to a time when the Union Jack flew above Government House and cucumber sandwiches were the order of the day at the China Club.

One look at the section in the Crimes Ordinance on treason and you'll be singing God Save The Queen before you know it. Here it states that a person commits treason if he (a) kills, wounds or causes bodily harm to Her Majesty, or imprisons or restrains Her; (b) forms an intention to do any such act as mentioned in paragraph (a) and manifests such intention by an overt act; (c) levies war against Her Majesty.

Not that there's any legal problem. Under the heading 'Amendments retroactively made' is the statement that any reference in any provision to Her Majesty, the Crown, the British Government or the Secretary of State (or to similar names, terms or expressions) ... shall be construed as a reference to the Central People's government or other competent authorities of the People's Republic of China.

So why, 13 years after the handover, haven't these laws been updated rather than leaving on the books ambiguous references, especially to treason?

Hong Kong Law Society president Huen Wong would prefer to see all references to the queen removed. 'The ordinance must be updated immediately and that section reworded,' he said.

'I'm sure it is not a problem legally, as the change has been noted in amendments. These amendments had to be made almost overnight in the course of the handover as Hong Kong was going from one jurisdiction to another. However, for clarity's sake it should now be changed throughout and tidied up. It's time to remove these references.

'I don't know why it hasn't been done before now - it may be down to staff shortages - but they will need to make the appropriate changes soon to avoid confusion.'

A person also commits treason in Hong Kong, the law reads, if he instigates any foreigner with force to invade the United Kingdom or any British territory; or assists by any means whatever any public enemy at war with Her Majesty ... with the intent to depose Her Majesty from the style, honour and royal name of the Crown of the United Kingdom or of any other of Her Majesty's dominions.

Michael Vidler, managing proprietor of Vidler & Co Solicitors, said a responsible and proactive government should move to review ordinances and make sure that not only are they up to date - such as taking out all references to 'Her Majesty' - but that they also comply with the Basic Law.

'There are a number of ordinances still on the statute books that are discriminatory and that the government have not taken the trouble to look at themselves,' Vidler said. 'These references to 'Her Majesty' just epitomise the ongoing problem. The ordinances should be brought up to date. The first step of any government should be that the general populace understand what the laws are that they have to comply with.'

The statutes aren't the only area where time seems to have stood still.

Hong Kong's police force has a long and glorious history. But if you had read the police website's history section 18 months ago you would have thought British forces were still patrolling the border with the mainland.

There was nothing in the section to indicate it had been updated since the handover. The site was hopelessly out of date. After an inquiry from the Sunday Morning Post, the history section was finally removed and replaced with the notice: 'This page is under renewal.'