Long may our judicial system remain independent

Remarks by state leader Zhang Dejiang were not meant to put pressure on our courts; rather they were a reminder of what makes Hong Kong so special

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 9:59pm

The rule of law is the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s success. Not only is it one of the most cherished core values in our society, it is also what makes us so unique and special. Every effort must be made to ensure that we are not just governed by the rule of law, but also seen to be doing so. The importance of this principle was highlighted by state leader Zhang Dejiang (張德江 ) during his visit to the city last week. Speaking at an official banquet, the National People’s Congress chief stressed the need to go after those who break the law. We must not make concessions to behaviour that violates the law, he said. Society as a whole should also severely condemn such behaviour, he added.

No specific cases were mentioned. But with the repercussions of the Mong Kok riot early this year and the pro-democracy civil disobedience movement of 2014 still lingering, it would not be unreasonable to put his remarks against the backdrop of those unlawful activities. It is true that some key players in the 2014 Occupy protests have yet to face any sanction, even though they have long said that they were prepared for the legal consequences of occupying some of the city’s streets for months to push Beijing for universal suffrage. The occasional acquittal of defendants in some high-profile public order cases also fuelled debate on judges’ decisions.

Zhang is right in saying that everyone is equal before the law and that no offenders can evade legal sanctions for any reason. This is precisely the essence of the rule of law.

In Hong Kong, the administration of justice follows a well-established mechanism. Whether the accused is guilty or not is to be determined by evidence in courts in a fair and open manner. The approach may be different from that on the mainland, where sometimes suspects confess on television before trial.

The Basic Law provides for the continuation of our system, underpinned by the important principle of the judiciary operating independently from the executive and the legislative arms. The mechanism has thus far been faithfully implemented and the public generally has high confidence in the system and respects the rulings.

The remarks from the country’s third most senior official need not be seen as putting pressure on judicial administrators. It can be seen as a reminder that not only must justice be done, but also seen to be done. Ultimately, it is for the courts to rule independently. Under “one country, two systems”, this principle shall prevail.