Hong Kong justice chief warns cross-border legal links can’t be rushed

Rimsky Yuen says greater judicial cooperation with mainland must be handled cautiously

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 8:43pm

Hong Kong and Chinese mainland authorities are discussing greater ­mutual assistance on criminal cases, but the gap between the two legal ­systems is a challenge, the city’s Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said on Sunday.

But a leading justice at the nation’s top court called the ­current level of cooperation far from ideal.

Yuen told a legal conference in Xian in Shaanxi province that the two jurisdictions would step up mutual legal assistance on civil and commercial cases. He warned such ­exchanges should be dealt with cautiously.

“Cooperation [on criminal cases] is significant, but considering the difference of the two legal systems, we face challenges in civil, commercial and criminal ­cooperation. It will still take some time,” he said.

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Yuen said that while many international legal cooperation agreements existed between sovereign nations, Hong Kong faced a different situation. “There are comparatively fewer examples regarding legal cooperation within a nation, which is under the framework of the ‘one country, two ­systems’ [principle],” he said. “We will push for such work, but we cannot create a framework that may not be suitable to use in the future for the sake of speeding things up.”

Different authorities are ­involved in the discussions, while the Supreme People’s Procuratorate is taking part in talks about cooperation in criminal cases.

The Supreme People’s Court agreed with the city last March to pursue mutual evidence-taking in civil and commercial cases, and seek reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments on matrimonial and related matters.

Shen Deyong, executive vice-president of the court, said progress was still slow on cross-border legal cooperation. “Judicial assistance on criminal matters is still blank. That’s not an ideal scenario. That’s not even a normal situation,” Shen said.

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“To further broaden and deepen mutual judicial assistance, we should not be confined by the current legal systems, nor shall we simply copy international treaties.”

The range of mutual judicial recognition of civil and commercial matters should also be further broadened, he said.

Since the handover, mainland authorities have transferred 170 suspects to Hong Kong, but ­Beijing has voiced concerns over the lack of reciprocity.

The disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers last year, who later turned up in the hands of mainland law enforcement ­officers, has raised concerns over the absence of an official agreement on cross-border mutual ­assistance in criminal cases.

But critics have raised ­concerns over whether such an assistance mechanism would be improperly used.