Hong Kong Basic Law

Top court to give landmark judgment on right of abode issues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 5:30am

Hong Kong's top court will hand down a landmark judgment today with far-reaching implications on right-of-abode issues facing foreign domestic helpers and children born in the city to mainlanders.

The Court of Final Appeal's ruling will decide whether foreign domestic helpers have the right to apply for permanent residency after living in the city for seven years.

The judges will also decide whether to accede to the government's controversial request to ask Beijing to clarify its 1999 interpretation of the Basic Law's Article 24, which sets out those qualified for permanent residency in Hong Kong.

The request is perceived as the government's attempt to resolve in one go the right-of-abode issues concerning both domestic helpers and children born here to mainland parents. Critics say it threatens Hong Kong's judicial autonomy.

Two law professors say that if the top court decides not to seek Beijing's interpretation, the government should not on its own approach the central government to seek one.

"The government may too readily seek help from Beijing when it is not required," said Michael Davis, of the University of Hong Kong. "Generally … the law within a system operates independently."

Davis warned the government to step cautiously, saying its decision to achieve an expedient goal could come at the expense of the rule of law.

Fellow HKU professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting shared his view, saying Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying "must bear a high political cost" if he decided to do so.

While the judgment is not out yet, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said on Friday that the city had a "fearless" judiciary that acted "independently".

Last year, 26,715 babies - about a third of all those born here - were children of mainland women whose husbands were non-Hong Kong residents.

This was before the policy to ban pregnant mainlanders with non-local husbands from booking public hospitals' delivery wards took effect on January 1.

But since the zero-birth quota kicked in, the number of such pregnant women rushing for emergency delivery here had dropped to just 22 and 34 cases in the first two months of this year.

Meanwhile, 1,048 foreign domestic helpers have applied for permanent identity cards since the Court of First Instance's September 2011 ruling that an immigration law preventing them from applying for the right of abode was unconstitutional. Some 125,000 have lived in the city for at least seven years.