Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Don't pressure the court over helpers, minister says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong's justice minister has issued an impassioned plea for cool heads as division in the community grows over an upcoming legal battle between the government and domestic helpers in their bid for the right to permanent residency.

Yesterday, in what a legal expert described as a first, Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung (pictured) called on people to allow the Court of First Instance to come to a fair and independent decision in a judicial review over the abode status of helpers that begins on Monday. 'I sincerely urge the public, when they are minded to express any view, to show the greatest respect to our court and our legal system, and to avoid as far as possible making any comments which might prejudice or affect the court's adjudication of the case,' Wong said.

In recent weeks a number of high-profile figures, including New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun and Wong's predecessor as head of the Department of Justice, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, who is now vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, have called on the government to ask Beijing to interpret Hong Kong's mini-constitution, a move that would probably lead to domestic helpers not gaining residency.

The courts will hear three judicial reviews of the clause in the Immigration Ordinance that denies helpers - but not other types of workers - residency. The plaintiffs want the High Court to declare that the clause contravenes the Basic Law.

About 290,000 helpers work in the city - 146,000 from Indonesia and 139,000 from the Philippines.

In the run-up to Monday's hearing of the case of Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a helper from the Philippines who has been in Hong Kong for 25 years, barely a day has gone by without another prominent group or figure adding fuel to the fire.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong claimed that half a million helpers with their families would flood the city if the appeal succeeded, and the Liberal Party, another government- and Beijing-loyal party, has publicly challenged the Civic Party to declare if they are on the side of Hong Kong people or helpers. The Civic Party has said only that they believe everyone is equal before the law and deserves proper legal representation.

Law Society president Junius Ho Kwan-yiu has already said animosity could risk contempt of court.

According to Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit, evidence from outside the court, like estimations on the influx of helpers, should not be used to pressure the judge. Neither should a call for interpretation, he said. 'Even before the judge makes his decision, you're already telling him that a certain decision is not acceptable,' he said. 'That is the exact concept of sub judice.'

But with the hearing set to begin on Monday, Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said Wong's statement - which he said was first ever made of its kind - should have come weeks ago before the many calls for interpretation. 'The harm is already done,' he said.

Additional reporting by Peter So