Pan-democratic lawmakers yesterday called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to clarify the administration's stance on the rule of law after what one described as worrying and shocking remarks by former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie last week.
Leung added fuel to the debate on Hong Kong's rule of law when she told the mainland's Global Times on Wednesday that Beijing's promise of "an unchanged way of life for 50 years" did not mean everything in Hong Kong would remain unchanged. The "legal system itself is ever changing", she said.
Speaking on a radio programme yesterday, senior counsel and Civic Party leader, Alan Leong Kah-kit, said he was shocked by Leung's comments and worried she was portraying Beijing's thoughts about Hong Kong.
"The Basic Law promised that Hong Kong's systems would not change for at least 50 years," Leong said. "It has only been 15 years since the handover, and I don't think [Leung's comment] is moral. I would urge the chief executive and the secretary of justice to come out with a strong stance and clarify [the issue]."
Elsie Leung, who is also vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, spoke of her interpretation of the Basic Law's promise that Hong Kong's capitalist system and way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years after the handover.
"Some people think that, 'unchanged for 50 years' means everything in Hong Kong will stay the way it was on June 30, 1997, and changing nothing means success. This is wrong. 'Unchanged for 50 years' is about the central government's basic principles and policies towards Hong Kong, not that all things remain unchanged," Leung said.
"The legal system itself is ever changing, and many things are just like it - they develop and they will court controversy during change. We cannot say that the legal system is damaged because we encounter legal disputes, neither can we judge that the 'one country, two systems' policy has failed because we come across problems.
"The so-called 'judicial independence' does not mean judges cannot be criticised, [it means] anyone must not criticise judges and affect their rulings."
Acting Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing criticised Leung for taking her right to freedom of speech too far.
"Leung is not a common Hongkonger; she has a very special status. Now she is repeatedly challenging Hong Kong's legal system in a high-profile manner. It is certainly creating a huge worry in the legal sector and the entire society."
Last month, Leung criticised Hong Kong's legal profession, including judges, saying they lacked understanding of the relationship between the central government and the special administrative region.