Court ruling on CSSA application criteria was legally correct

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 January, 2014, 11:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 January, 2014, 11:53pm


Last month's ruling by the Court of Final Appeal that the existing Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) application criteria for new immigrants were unconstitutional sparked a heated debate.

Most people focused on the negative impacts of the judgment such as the financial burden the government faces. They have criticised the judgment, saying it was wrong.

However, it is important to emphasise the professionalism of the court's judges and point out that from a legal perspective there was nothing wrong with their decision. The fact that some political groups urged the government to seek the National People's Congress Standing Committee's interpretation was unwise and short-sighted.

More importantly, their questions and criticisms of our judges were obviously unfounded.

Whenever the court has made a decision that is unpopular in society, or one that arouses a lot of social concerns like the Chong Fung-yuen case or the December ruling over welfare eligibility for new migrants, the judges tend to come in for public criticism.

People often respond in this way because they do not fully understand the role of the court.

We should bear in mind that the court's responsibility is to interpret law, not to introduce a policy that satisfies the needs of the majority.

This should be the job of the Hong Kong government, not the court, under the doctrine of separation of powers.

The court handles its task pretty well, as was illustrated in this case. What the judges should be doing is to ascertain the legislative intent of the Basic Law as expressed in its language.

Article 36 of the Basic Law says: "Hong Kong residents shall have the right to social welfare in accordance with law." How can the court go against such a clear meaning and rule that there is a condition regarding "Hong Kong residents" which includes only permanent residents?

Clearly, there is no justification for an NPC Standing Committee interpretation. I believe that when it faces a challenge to the rights of Hong Kong citizens, the court should stand firm and guard against any potential derogation and encroachment. In this way, it protects our rights which, as is said so often, are always said to be one of the core values of Hong Kong.

Not until most Hong Kong citizens fully understand the function of the court and cherish the rights they enjoy will they wholly respect its decisions.

Vanessa Cheng Wat-kwan, Lai Chi Kok