Citing fear for 'McCarthy hearing', ex-justice chief Elsie Leung snubs lawmakers

Elsie Leung raises spectre of 1950s McCarthyite witch-hunts as she turns down meeting request

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 7:25am

Former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie has invoked the spectre of McCarthyism in refusing to attend a Legislative Council meeting to explain her contentious remarks about the legal profession.

Leung said that if she heeded lawmakers' demand for her to turn up, it might turn Legco panel meetings into "McCarthy hearings". The reference is to the notorious witch-hunts conducted in the 1950s by Republican US senator Joseph McCarthy to track down communist sympathisers.

Leung, who is also vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, added fuel to the debate sparked by her accusation last month that the legal profession, including judges, did not understand the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong by saying that if the city's legal system had not developed it might still be subject to Qing Dynasty laws.

Her remarks came in a letter and an 11-page written submission to the legal affairs panel, which had invited her to a meeting next Tuesday.

She suggested that lawmakers seeking a discussion should contact her directly and arrange an appointment, rather than "intruding upon the valuable time for the panel meeting or utilising public resources".

"I doubt whether the panel meeting is an appropriate venue," Leung wrote. "Inviting me to attend the panel meeting simply because some legislative councillors take issue with what I have said may create a dangerous precedent for turning meetings into McCarthy hearings."

Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a legal sector representative and vice-chairman of the legal affairs panel, said he regretted that Leung refused to attend the panel's meeting and had "inappropriately compared" the meeting with McCarthy's hearings.

In her latest submission, Leung said critics' suggestions that she was advocating change in the legal system were totally false. "If the legal system of Hong Kong had not been developing, the Chinese community must still be governed by customary law derived from Qing law," Leung said. Her critics were making the claims "purely for the purpose of scaremongering the public, disparaging me and causing disharmony in society", she said

Kwok said Leung's remarks touched on promises made about the legal system in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. "If she thinks that not changing the legal system means we would still be using the Qing law, I think she has mixed up some concepts," said Kwok, a Civic Party member.

The panel chairwoman, Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a pro-establishment lawmaker, said it was "very unideal" that Leung would be absent from next week's meeting. However, Leung said, she understood that the Secretary for Justice, Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, and representatives from the Bar Association would attend and debate the matter with lawmakers.

In a paper submitted to the panel, the Department of Justice reiterated that the government attached great importance to all matters concerning judicial independence and the rule of law, and was committed to upholding these two important principles.