Chief secretary Carrie Lam defends Hong Kong's judicial independence
Official responds to former justice minister's claims that city's judges lack understanding over issue of mainland mothers giving birth
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor leapt to the defence of the city's judicial independence after former justice minister Elsie Leung Oi-sie launched a withering attack on local judges over the weekend.
Lam was the first official to respond to the remarks by Leung, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, who said on Saturday that the legal profession in Hong Kong, including judges, lacked an understanding about the relationship between the central government and the special administrative region.
Leung said this lack of understanding gave rise to mistakes in previous rulings in which the top court has superseded the central government's power. She said inviting Beijing to interpret the Basic Law was the "most secure" solution to curbing the influx of mainland women coming here to give birth.
Her remarks contradict what Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said a few months ago when taking up his post - that seeking a reinterpretation of relevant Basic Law clauses was not "an appropriate solution".
Responding to Leung's remarks, Lam said: "Hong Kong is a law-abiding community and judicial independence is its core value."
She added: "Dealing with the issue of the influx of mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong involves complicated legal matters," pointing out that Yuen had already been investigating the matter in person.
Last month the government invited a Queen's Counsel from the United Kingdom to advise on how to reverse a law that automatically grants right of abode to all babies born to mainland parents in the city. The Court of Final Appeal ruled in 2001 that mainland babies born in Hong Kong had right of abode regardless of their parents' nationality.
Political scientist Ma Ngok of Chinese University criticised Leung, saying the former secretary for justice should respect the city's judicial independence.
"What Ms Leung said was shocking. Someone who has been the secretary for justice should not have made such a comment on our judicial system. She was putting pressure on our judges," Ma said. He added that the damage caused by Leung's remarks would not be eased even if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying spoke out in defence. "It won't make any difference no matter what he says."
The academic said the Hong Kong government should stand firm on the city's autonomy instead of relying on the central government to reinterpret the Basic Law.
He was also worried that Lam's response was only an "official remark" and that she did not show genuine intent to speak up for the city's judicial system.