The Basic Law was drafted as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration covering Hong Kong after its handover to China on July 1, 1997. The joint declaration stated that Hong Kong would be governed under the principle of ‘one country-two systems’ and would continue to enjoy its capitalist system and individual freedoms for 50 years after the handover.
Beijing's previous Basic Law rulings
The Court of Final Appeal ruled in 1999 that there were two conditions under which it should refer cases to Beijing for interpretation. They were either that the aspect of the Basic Law in question was the responsibility of the central government, or it concerned relations between Hong Kong and the central authorities. The court must also rule that such an interpretation would affect its judgment in the case.
Beijing has interpreted the Basic Law on four occasions. The first was in the 1999 case of Ng Ka-ling, a child born on the mainland to a Hong Kong father who was seeking right of abode under Articles 22 and 24 of the Basic Law. The request for an interpretation was instigated by the government of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, but it sparked widespread fury and worried the legal profession. The top court had ruled in favour of Ng.
The second interpretation came at Beijing's instigation in 2004 and related to political reform for universal suffrage and the arrangements for the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council after 2007.
On April 6, 2004, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress issued its interpretation of Article 7 of Annex I and Article 3 of Annex 2 of the Basic Law, and insisted that changes to the election law would need Beijing's consent. It ruled out universal suffrage for the elections in 2007 and 2008.
The third occasion was initiated in 2005 by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was acting chief executive at the time, to address his succession after Tung stepped down in the middle of his second term.
The most recent case came last year when the Court of Final Appeal, at the suggestion of the government, asked for an interpretation of Articles 13(1) and 19 of the Basic Law to determine the issue of state immunity from legal action in a lawsuit between an American company and the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.