Failure to invest in updating flawed laws 'hurting Hong Kong'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong's lack of investment in law reform is affecting its status as a financial and commercial centre.

That's the view of the chairman of the Independent Financial Advisers Association, Glenn Turner, who warns: 'Our law is becoming more and more archaic and uncertain. Hong Kong needs law reform, and lots of it.'

The Law Reform Commission was run differently from those in Commonwealth jurisdictions, and was ill-equipped for the task of reform, he said. It was made up of brilliant and highly regarded but part-time members.

Turner is not alone. Some lawyers have also expressed dissatisfaction with the reform process.

One says the government has dragged its feet in implementing the commission's recommendations.

The commission, created in 1980, considers for reform aspects of laws that the secretary for justice or chief justice refer to it. Since 1997 it has completed 27 reports, 22 of which have yet to be implemented.

Even though anomalies and unfairness have been identified in our laws, the public has suffered the consequences for years while a solution has sat on government shelves, a situation at odds with the city's image of efficient, executive-led government.

Human rights lawyer Michael Vidler said yesterday it was disappointing that volunteers gave up their time to take part in the commission's committees, only to have their views shelved by the government.

'The government should put sufficient resources into law-drafting teams so these matters can be dealt with properly in a timely fashion,' he said. 'There's a plethora of issues that need to be clarified. It's getting longer and longer and longer.'

Vidler noted a case involving a man who had challenged the constitutionality of a law under which it was an offence to engage in homosexual buggery with a man under 21. Although the Court of Appeal ruled it was unconstitutional in 2006, the government has not moved to repeal the relevant law - section 118C of the Crimes Ordinance - said Vidler, whose firm, Vidler & Co, represented the man.

Vidler also noted that the government had been slow to act on legal aid reform. 'It's the government that's slowing things down,' he said.

Simon Young, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, said Hong Kong was very slow in changing laws.

He said there needed to be an in-depth examination of how the administration produced legislation and formulated policy.

Previously, Law Society president Huen Wong said the pace at which the commission's reports were acted upon left much to be desired.

Proposals often took years, if not decades, to reach the Legislative Council, he said.

Many of the reports that have not been implemented are aimed at enhancing the protection of individuals, empowering them to redress injustices in areas such as consumer protection or invasion of privacy.