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Hong Kong Basic Law

Hundreds of Hong Kong lawyers in silent march against Beijing oath ruling

Prominent lawyers join rally, with Democratic Party founder Martin Lee describing the move as ‘a tank crashing into the legal system’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 10:59am

Hundreds joined a silent march by the legal profession on Tuesday night in protest against the intervention by Beijing in a controversial oath-taking case, claiming it harms judicial independence.

However a Basic Law adviser to Beijing said it was up to a local court to decide whether the mainland ruling banning pro-independence lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching was retrospective and posed a legal challenge for more pan-democrat lawmakers over the way oaths were taken.

Warning goes out against banning more Hong Kong lawmakers

March organiser and legal-sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said more than 2,000 people joined the protest Police put the turnout at 1,700.

It was the fourth silent march staged by lawyers against Beijing’s intervention in the judicial system since the handover in 1997.

Leading the march were senior counsel including Martin Lee Chu-ming, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, Graham Harris, Alan Leong Kah-kit and solicitor John Clancey. Denis Chang, second on the Bar list, was also there.

Lee said the latest interpretation, the fifth of its kind since the handover, was “the worst” of all.

“It is like a tank crashing into Hong Kong’s legal system,” Lee, a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee in the 1980s, said. “It is not an interpretation of the Basic Law – it is an amendment of Hong Kong law.”

On Monday, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee issued its interpretation of Basic Law Article 104, ruling that lawmakers must be “sincere” and read the prescribed oath “completely, accurately and ­solemnly”.

Those who do not comply face instant disqualification.

The lawyers say the ruling pre-empted a local court, which had heard arguments – and is yet to give a decision – over a judicial review sought by the government to disqualify the two localists who insulted China while taking their oaths last month. Some marchers said they did not agree with the localists, and had joined the rally to defend the city’s legal system.

Any change in oversight of oath-taking by Hong Kong lawmakers likely to face stiff opposition, analysts warn

Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi, who had said the interpretation was not necessarily a bad thing, was not present. However, after the ruling was issued, the Bar expressed “deep regret” at the interpretation, which it said would “do more harm than good”.

The Law Society said Beijing should “exercise restraint” in invoking its power to interpret the Basic Law because frequently doing so would give the impression that judicial independence was being undermined.

Meanwhile, Basic Law Committee member and University of Hong Kong professor Albert Chen Hung-yee said it was up to the court to decide whether the Beijing ruling had retrospective effect, because the text did not touch on the issue.

Chen noted that committee chairman Li Fei said he would respect the city’s common law principles when asked about whether it was retrospective.

There are concerns over whether the ruling can be applied retrospectively, because some loyalists are calling for the disqualification of other lawmakers who had their first oaths rejected last month.