The Bar Association says there is no need to create a new class of crimes or enact additional legislation under Article 23 because existing laws already cover offences such as subversion and sedition. 'Article 23 itself does not create any crime. It also does not mandate the Legislative Council to make new laws which are incompatible with other provisions of the Basic Law and the common law,' the group said in a 19-page statement released yesterday. The Bar said it was not opposed to proposals putting existing laws dealing with offences related to Article 23 in a 'systematic way'. But it said any legislation must be consistent with international human rights charters and the Basic Law. They include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. The group said existing laws that dealt with treason, sedition and theft of state secrets 'are out of date and not compatible with the ICCPR'. For instance, it notes that the ICCPR unconditionally protects the freedom of thought and conscience and the freedom of opinion, religion or belief. 'Pure expression of opinion should not be criminalised,' it said. The Bar said that instead of introducing new laws, 'legislation under Article 23 may provide the SAR government with a good opportunity to conduct an extensive overhaul of the existing laws on the matters'. Senior officials have hinted that legislative work on Article 23 will begin soon following warnings by Beijing officials, including Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, against any further delay. Article 23 says Hong Kong should enact legislation to prohibit, among others, subversive and secession activities, but provides no timetable. However, the Bar said that Article 23 also said that Hong Kong 'shall enact laws on its own' and did not require legislation 'identical to the relevant provisions' of the mainland's criminal law. The Bar argues that although subversion and secession are not common law offences, the existing laws are sufficient to deal with such activities. On secession, the Bar points out any actual secessionist activity such as acts of violence in furthering a secessionist cause is punishable under the offence of sedition. Subversive activities such as the forcible overthrow of the central government would already be outlawed under existing ordinances, it added. 'The Bar therefore questions the need for a generic offence of subversion,' it said. If an offence should be enacted to outlaw secession and subversion, the Bar suggested it should only be considered as such if there was 'actual violence or acts which induces actual violence'.