Former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie defended as “free speech” her earlier criticism of Hong Kong’s judiciary, as her back-and-forth argument with two legal bodies continued on Friday.
“I have the right to free speech, too, and my opinion does not affect judicial independence whatsoever,” she said in Nansha, Guangdong.
The public argument began last Saturday, when Leung criticised the city’s legal profession, including judges, for lacking an understanding of the Beijing-Hong Kong relationship.
Leung had urged the government to seek an interpretation of the Basic Law from Beijing.
Four days later, the Bar Association and the Law Society issued strong defences of the city’s independent judiciary, with the Law Society warning the government to “act cautiously” before seeking any interpretation of the Basic Law from Beijing.
On Friday, Leung, the deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, said she was not the first person to comment openly on court cases.
“There were times when academics made criticisms on matters relating to the Hua Tian Long case, when it was about to be heard at the appeal court. Why did the Bar Association and the Law Society not issue any statement at that time?”
“I find I need to defend my freedom of speech,” she said.
The Hua Tian Long case was a lawsuit in 2010 between the owner of a floating derrick - the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau - and a Malaysian company over a breach of agreement.
At issue was whether the owners could claim Crown immunity in the lawsuit and whether, after the handover, the mainland government enjoys the privilege in general. Crown immunity allows the sovereign or the state to avoid liability when sued.
It was the first time the issue had appeared before the Hong Kong courts.
In her criticism on Saturday, Leung said the legal profession’s poor understanding of the Beijing-Hong Kong relationship had led to mistaken rulings, in which the top court had superseded the central government’s power.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 issues related to mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong.
In their statements, the Bar Association and the Law Society on Wednesday warned against any interference - or even the perception of interference - with the judiciary’s independence.