Barristers are calling on the justice secretary to appoint a separate counsel to represent children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents who could be affected by a right of abode case involving domestic helpers.
The Society for Community Organisation welcomed the Bar Association's call. It estimated that over 100,000 children would be directly affected by the case, due to be heard on February 26.
The Department of Justice is expected to ask the Court of Final Appeal for a referral to Beijing to clarify the meaning of its 1999 interpretation of Article 24 of the Basic Law, which deals with permanent residency. It wants a clarification in light of a surge in the number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong, where their children get residency, and challenges by domestic helpers to the law preventing them from seeking permanent residency.
In a statement yesterday, the Bar Association said Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung had a "noble, unique and far more important role, namely as the guardian of justice and the public interest" and should take steps which are "appropriate and necessary". Those steps included applying to the court to appoint a separate counsel to represent children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents, to reflect their rights and legitimate expectations "fairly and adequately".
The association warned that a court decision to make a referral to Beijing would have "far-reaching repercussions" on the rights of such children. "[We are] deeply concerned that those children, who are not parties to the appeal, will have no legal representation before the court to make submissions on their behalf," it said.
Lawmakers Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Alan Leong Kah-kit supported the call. They said appointing a separate legal representative for the children was the "minimum step" Yuen should take if he insisted on going ahead with the request for a referral.
"It would be an unjust thing to do if those children whose rights could be affected are not legally represented," Leong said. He said the court may challenge the justice secretary if the children were not represented on the first day of the hearing. Tong said the court could appoint a "friend of the court" to represent non-parties to the case if their interests may be directly affected by the ruling.
A justice department spokesman said the government and justice secretary "are fully conscious of their duties, and are committed, to maintaining the rule of law and safeguarding public interests". Barnes & Daly, the firm representing the domestic helpers, refused to comment.