A row over former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie's recent criticism of the legal profession intensified yesterday when she hit back at her critics, saying she was simply exercising her right to free speech.
Leung, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, implicitly accused the Bar Association and the Law Society of applying double standards when they attacked her for threatening the city's judicial independence.
Leung, speaking after a ceremony in Guangzhou, said she had written to the two legal groups explaining her stance.
"There is not any case currently being heard in the court that may be related to what I have commented on. Absolutely, there is no question of me influencing a judge," Leung said.
"Our judges are of high quality. They will not be easily influenced just because of one or two people expressing their views."
She cited the case of salvage vessel Hua Tian Long, in which Guangzhou Salvage Bureau, the owners of the floating derrick, were sued in Hong Kong by a Malaysian company for alleged breach of an agreement.
She said: "There were academics making criticisms about the case when it was about to be heard in the Court of Appeal.
"Why did the two [legal] bodies not issue statements warning them against threatening judicial independence?"
The row erupted after Leung said at a forum last weekend that the legal profession in Hong Kong, including judges, lacked an understanding of the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing. She said this had given rise to mistakes in previous rulings in which the top court, in her view, had superseded the central government's power.
She said that asking Beijing to interpret the Basic Law was the best way to curb the influx of mainlanders giving birth here.
The Bar Association and the Law Society issued statements earlier this week raising concerns over the possible impact on Hong Kong's judicial independence of seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law.
Both groups declined to comment further yesterday.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, one of the academics who wrote a commentary on the Hua Tian Long case in 2010, argued: "The impact of views expressed by academics and that expressed by an influential figure is very different.
"No one would think the court might be influenced by views expressed by a man in the street. But Ms Leung is very influential. She is the deputy head of the Basic Law Committee."
He accused Leung of "failing her duty" in her committee role. "As a Hong Kong member, she is supposed to explain the views of Hong Kong people to her Chinese counterparts in the committee. But now it seems she is adopting the Chinese view."
The Basic Law Committee is under the aegis of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Its job is to study questions arising from the implementation of the Basic Law that concern relations with Beijing.
Political analyst Dr James Sung Lap-kung said: "Because Miss Leung has direct access to the core Beijing leadership, it is natural people will see what she says as Beijing's official views."
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor urged Leung to be cautious with public comments.