Hot favourite for legal chief keeps his counsel

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am


The most widely tipped candidate to be the next secretary for justice is coy about his future.

In his first interview since Leung Chun-ying's victory in the chief executive election, prominent barrister Jat Sew-tong, SC, insisted no one had approached him about the job.

Asked if his door was open to any such appointment, Jat, 46, said: 'Where is the door? I do not answer hypothetical questions.'

At least two senior legal experts with close ties to Beijing named Jat as a likely choice for the justice job during the annual plenary meeting of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference last month.

His chairmanship of the Independent Police Complaints Council, on which he has served since 2008, expires at the end of May. But he refused to say if he and the current administration had discussed renewing it.

Jat said although it was almost time to discuss the council chair post he would not disclose his plans.

'If I say I am sitting on the IPCC for another two years, people would make another inference,' said Jat, referring to his possible appointment as secretary for justice.

The next chief executive says he has been busy forming his cabinet.

In 2007, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen finalised his cabinet lineup by early June.

Other names mentioned for the secretary for justice post include Basic Law Committee member Johnny Mok Shu-luen and pro-Beijing barrister Martin Liao Cheung-kong, a NPC deputy who also holds several other public positions, including the chairmanship of the University of Hong Kong.

Jat is also chairman of the Minimum Wage Commission.

The government sometimes extends the term of people serving on statutory bodies to six years, so theoretically Jat could serve the IPCC for a further two years.

A Security Bureau spokesman would not say if the government had entered a renewal process of Jat's contract with the IPCC, saying 'an announcement will be made when the appointment exercise is completed'.

Jat, who will mark 10 years as a senior counsel next month, was the youngest appointee when called to the inner bar in 2002 at the age of 36.

Commenting on Leung's stunning claims that mainland babies 'born in 2013 could not be guaranteed the right of abode', Jat said: 'The NPC could either amend the Basic Law before 2013 ... or interpret it.'

But Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of Hong Kong Basic Law Committee of the NPC, had ruled out amending the mini-constitution to curb the influx of pregnant mainlanders giving birth in Hong Kong.

At the centre of the debate was a 2001 Court of Final Appeal ruling in the case of Chong Fung-yuen that conferred right of abode on babies born in Hong Kong regardless of the parents' immigration status.

It contradicted an NPC interpretation in 1999 which decreed that at least one parent of the baby had to be a permanent resident at the time of the birth.