Legal fear on Taiwan celebration
THE Government would breach the Bill of Rights Ordinance if it sought to overturn the Urban Council's decision to let a pro-Taiwan group use its premises for the Double Tenth National Day celebrations, Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews said yesterday.
Any cancellation of the booking approved by Urbco 'would almost certainly be quashed by a court upon judicial review and could give rise to a claim for damages', he said in a statement.
However, a senior Xinhua (New China News Agency) official, Yang Youyong, said the Government's explanation that it was not empowered to cancel the booking was not convincing.
'How can they ignore the factor of political implications over such an important event?' he asked.
The row erupted over an Urbco decision to let the pro-Taiwan Chinese Culture Association host National Day celebrations at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on Monday.
Section 45 of the Urban Council Ordinance says: 'The Governor may, after consultation with the council, give the council directions of a general character as to the discharge by the council of its functions in relations to matters appearing to the Governor to affect the public interest, and the council shall give effect to such directions.' The Governor can also give specific directions for the purpose of 'remedying any failure of the council in discharging any obligation or in fulfilling any function stipulated by the law'.
Mr Mathews said the provision did not empower the Governor to direct the council to cancel a specific booking, adding that such 'direction would clearly not be a direction of a general character'.
'Moreover, in giving a direction of a general character, the Governor would have to have regard to the Bill of Rights Ordinance,' he said.
Mr Mathews also said the provision was inapplicable in this case because there was 'no suggestion that the council has failed to discharge any obligation or to fulfil any function'.
Mr Mathews said an application for the use of a civic centre would be approved, provided the proposed meeting did not pose a threat to public order or public safety.
'In the absence of such grounds, withdrawal of the permission would be an arbitrary exercise of the statutory power and would, therefore, be unlawful,' he said.
Mr Yang said Xinhua would pursue the matter and insisted it was not an isolated case.
'Political consideration has always been a significant factor for rejecting similar applications in the past,' he said.
'Looking back in the past two years, it's clear that it [the Government] has changed its policy.'