Hong Kong Basic Law

Basic Law Institute to seek access to classified pre-handover UK papers on right of abode

Sealed pre-handover papers would 'shed light on original intention of Basic Law'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 10:22am

The head of the Basic Law Institute will fly to London in April to lobby members of parliament to disclose classified documents he says could shed light on Hong Kong's right of abode laws.

Alan Hoo, SC, the institute's chairman, said the pre-handover documents could help clarify the intention of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group on whether babies born in Hong Kong to parents who were both mainland Chinese nationals were entitled to right of abode in the city - a right such children now enjoy.

The diplomatic documents were prepared by the group in the 1990s and remain classified, Hoo said. His earlier requests to obtain copies from the central government were unsuccessful.

Hoo said that after the promulgation of the Basic Law in 1990, the Joint Liaison Group continued discussions over details of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Agreement was not reached on right of abode issues until 1993.

In 1999, the Court of Final Appeal rejected the government submission of the liaison group's booklet on right-of-abode definitions as evidence in the case of Ng Ka-ling, a nine-year-old mainland-born girl who sought to be reunited after the handover with her father in Hong Kong.

The top court was asked to rule whether Ng, in seeking permanent residency, must have had one parent who was a Hong Kong resident at the time of her birth. Although Ng's father obtained Hong Kong residency after she was born, the court ruled she should be granted right of abode.

In London, Hoo hopes Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs can raise questions in parliament on right-of-abode issues discussed in the documents.

Answers provided in parliament could serve as "judicial notice" in Hong Kong courts, meaning evidence disclosed officially could be used in litigation without being legally challenged.

Right of abode continues to be a thorny issue in Hong Kong, especially in regard to mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong in the hope of obtaining residency for their babies.

Last month the government suggested that the Court of Final Appeal ask the National People's Congress Standing Committee to clarify the meaning of its 1999 interpretation of Article 24 of the Basic Law, which deals with permanent residency.

This interpretation denied permanent residency to children born outside the city before either parent was a permanent resident.

But the top court ruled in 2001 that children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents, regardless of the parents' status, should have right of abode.