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Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Enough of pan-democrats’ politicking over unseating of four Hong Kong lawmakers

John Chan says the kind of oath-taking that saw the four disqualified would not have been accepted in any formal chamber, and protesting pan-democrats are asking that the government ignore legal principles

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 7:11pm

The recent court ruling that disqualified four Hong Kong lawmakers was received with anger by their pro-democracy peers. Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said he could not entirely agree with the court’s reasoning. James To Kun-sun of the Democratic Party called the ruling a “declaration of war” by the Hong Kong government against its people.

Their stance is disappointing, as blind refutation of a court ruling to stir up commotion only risks widening the already wide social rifts in Hong Kong.

Yeung, who is also a barrister, believes the four legislators should not have been taken to court over their oath-taking in the first place, as such a move usurped the choice of 127,000 electors. In his view, the outcome has irreversibly torn apart the improved executive-legislative relations seen since the new government took office. He said if Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor truly wanted to mend ties, she should reconsider whether the government should contest the appeal of the four lawmakers.

Watch: Four more lawmakers disqualified over oath-taking

It is inconceivable that Yeung would find it appropriate to suggest to the new government that it compromise on such a fundamental legal principle, in order to get the pan-democrats’ agreement to continue to mend ties with the new government as a trade-off.

In highly politicised Hong Kong, lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp always find justice in causes that they support, and they will always find evil in matters that are not politically convenient for them.

More Hong Kong pan-democrats in ‘highly risky’ position after ouster of four lawmakers

Hence, for James To, the judicial review of the four lawmakers’ oath-taking became a “dirty trick”, as he put it when then chief executive Leung Chun-ying initiated the judicial process last year. And, when the result of the judicial review came out, he saw it as the government’s declaration of war against the people of Hong Kong, thus dragging each and every one of us in Hong Kong into this “war” he fancied.

Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung, in his 112-page judgment, elucidated why the oaths taken by the four legislators could not be considered as showing the oath-takers’ intention to convey the meaning and contents of the pledges of the Legislative Council oath, or be considered as having met the requisite standard of solemnity and sincerity.

For the man on the street, to determine whether the Legco oaths of the four concerned can be considered acceptable, only two questions need to be answered.

Oath-taking antics: The acts that got six Hong Kong lawmakers disqualified

First, if what happened at the swearing-in ceremony last October had taken place in the British Parliament, would the four be considered to have been properly sworn in? I have no answer to that.

Yet Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, who has himself served as a member of Parliament, said clearly last November in Hong Kong that taking an oath is serious business, it isn’t something of a lark.

The law has its requirements, and the number of votes garnered in the election has no relevance

He cited the example of the Sinn Fein party of Northern Ireland, made up of republicans who will not swear allegiance to the Queen. So they can’t take their place in Parliament – “simple as that”.

Second, would swearing an oath in a manner similar to that of the four last October be accepted in a Hong Kong court? Any lawyer or Hongkonger who has been in court can tell you that not only will it not be accepted, for sure the oath-taker will get a good dressing down from the sitting judge.

To ordinary citizens, the whole matter is as simple as that. In Hong Kong, everyone has the right to criticise, sneer at and even denounce the government in Beijing or in the SAR. Freedom of speech under “one country two systems” affords us such rights. However, when it comes to a lawmaker taking a solemn oath of allegiance, it is a completely different matter. The law has its requirements, and the number of votes the oath-taker garnered in the election has no relevance.

Carrie Lam non-committal on pan-democrats’ requests in wake of unseating of four lawmakers

If the amicable ties just built up between pan-democrat lawmakers and the new government are so fragile that they can easily be torn apart because of a judicial review that disqualifies the four for what they rightly deserve, I do not have high hopes that the current amicable legislative-executive relationship will last for long. More so when some pan-democrats see fit to use the amicable relationship as a bargaining chip to save the four doomed oath-takers.

John Chan is a practising solicitor and a founding member of the Democratic Party