In 10 days the High Court is due to begin hearing a judicial review of the government's denial of the right of abode to foreign domestic helpers. The challenge should not have come as a surprise, since the exclusion of helpers under immigration laws excepts them from a fundamental right of residents under the Basic Law. The issue has been raised before; it is only now, however, that it has been nakedly politicised.
First, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong claimed that giving helpers permanent right of abode after the usual seven years' residence would open the door to hundreds of thousands of their relatives, double the unemployment rate, lead to a horrendous social spending bill and force employers to pay helpers the minimum wage of HK$28 an hour. Now the Liberal Party has gone one better, if that is the word, in quarter-page advertisements in Chinese-language newspapers challenging the Civic Party to declare its stance on the issue. Taking an estimate of 100,000 helpers who might become eligible for permanent residency, it not only paints a worst-case scenario but uses dubious assumptions to create an alarming picture. The party's vice-chairwoman, Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, asks in the advertisement whether the Civic Party is on the side of Hongkongers or on the side of helpers.
To the many Hongkongers who entrust the care and welfare of the vulnerable, very young and elderly to helpers, this might not seem such a simple 'for us or against us' issue. It may, though, be the case that the issue pits people against one another along socially divisive lines. All of this misses the point. Either helpers have the right of permanent residency under the law as it stands, or not. If the court rules that they do, officials will have to deal with the consequences one way or another. Meanwhile, the court must decide the case according to the law, without fear or favour. Stirring up public concerns now for political purposes is not helpful.
Moreover, the Law Society has rightly cautioned critics against making comments that could constitute contempt of court.