New-towns plan faces legal challenge from lawmaker

Court should overturn funding approval because Finance Committee chairman acted outside his power, says independent legislator

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 4:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 8:54am

The pan-democrats' challenge to Legislative Council Finance Committee chairman Ng Leung-sing has moved to the High Court after independent lawmaker Wong Yuk-man filed a request for judicial review.

Wong wants the court to overturn the committee's approval of the government's funding request for a contentious new-towns project in the northeastern New Territories. He also wants it to rule that Ng "doesn't have the power to stop handling lawmakers' motions".

The application, filed on Tuesday, follows Wong's complaint that by refusing to handle his 10,000 amendments at a meeting on June 27, Ng breached Article 37A of the Finance Committee's rules, which allows lawmakers to move motions.

During the six-hour meeting, the seventh in a series to debate preliminary funding for the new-towns project, Ng was repeatedly accused of breaching committee rules.

He refused to handle motions from Wong and a vote of no confidence in himself by Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan.

And as the meeting neared a conclusion, he told lawmakers they would have only one minute each to ask questions before the HK$340 million funding request went to a vote.

Pan-democrats complained that Ng contravened Article 46 of the committee's procedure, which dictates that "the chairman shall ask members if they have any further questions before putting an item to the vote". Ng cited guidance from Legco's legal adviser saying Article 46 only meant lawmakers would be able to ask questions.

But Civic Party barrister-lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said that the Article 46 argument could be the most convincing point on which the court might allow the judicial review.

"A judicial review seeks to [evaluate] whether a procedure has been reasonable and just, and if a mistake was made, it could be a reason for the court to intervene," Tong said.

Banning lawmakers from asking further questions could also be regarded as a "very obviously unreasonable situation" - another reason for the court to take action.

After the meeting on June 27, Lee said the pan-democrats' only choice was a judicial review.

Lee's party colleague Cyd Ho Sau-lan said yesterday that Wong's legal bid would not stop the Labour Party and other pan-democrats from launching a legal challenge of their own.

"We had a meeting with lawyers on the idea, and we will handle it carefully," Ho said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, a practising solicitor, declined to comment on the chances of success.

"It's not easy, because we know that the court usually doesn't want to interfere with Legco's affairs … and it's costly too," he said.