Two legal bodies issued strong defences of Hong Kong's independent judiciary yesterday, with the Law Society warning the government to "act cautiously" before seeking any interpretation of the Basic Law from Beijing.
The society and the Bar Association were defending the judiciary against a scathing attack by a former justice minister, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, on Saturday.
Leung said the legal profession, including judges, lacked an understanding of the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong. This had led to mistakes in previous rulings in which the top court had superseded the central government's power.
Leung urged the government to seek an interpretation of the Basic law from the National People's Congress Standing Committee to solve the issues surrounding mainland women giving birth in the city.
Yesterday the Law Society said it believed "the government should act cautiously when considering whether to seek an interpretation of any provisions of the Basic Law". It also said "a referral to the NPCSC to interpret Article 24(2)(1) of the Basic Law will undermine the authority and standing of the Court of Final Appeal and likely damage the rule of law in Hong Kong".
Later yesterday, the Department of Justice added its voice to the debate by saying judicial independence and the rule of law were Hong Kong's core values. Article 85 of the Basic Law, it said, specified that Hong Kong courts "shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference".
"The government is committed to upholding judicial independence and rule of law," it said.
The Bar Association said that while it had consistently acknowledged the NPC's power to interpret the Basic Law, Hong Kong's common-law system had to be defended.
"It is a cardinal principle of the common law that the interpretation of all enacted laws is a matter solely for the judges when deciding cases litigated before them," it said.
"Any act which interferes, or which may be perceived as interfering, with the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong must be viewed with great circumspection."
At the centre of the debate is granting permanent residency to children born in Hong Kong to mothers from the mainland.