Interpretation by Hong Kong pan-democrat makes sense

The words of Johannes Chan regarding rulings by Beijing ring true, it’s to be hoped that those seeking a judicial review on the joint rail checkpoint take note

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 12:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 12:57am

The first request by the post-handover government for an interpretation of the Basic Law by Beijing in 1999 is often blamed for starting a precedent for mainland judicial interference.

Of the five interpretations so far, two were initiated by Beijing, two by the Hong Kong government and one by the High Court.

What is often forgotten is that the first request was popular because it was an attempt to stop the floodgates being opened for an estimated 1.6 million people from the mainland coming to live in Hong Kong.

Since then, though, it has become an article of faith among most opposition figures that any interpretation by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee undermines, bit by bit, the city’s judicial independence.

This, I gather, is pretty much the assumption behind the safeguards proposed by prominent pan-democrat legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun to discourage future interpretations by the Standing Committee.

His recommendations mostly make sense, even if you are not a legal specialist like the University of Hong Kong law professor.

Even those who sit on the committee would agree with some of them.

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In a Post interview, Chan said when there is no “public interest, urgency or exceptional circumstances” involved, Beijing should refrain from offering an interpretation.

Well, who would dispute that? Of the five cases of interpretations so far, has there been a single case which didn’t involve some degree of public interest, urgency or exceptional circumstances?

Chan also said Beijing should avoid judicial intervention in cases that involve ongoing litigation, or when the local courts have clear jurisdiction.

Generally, he thinks both the Hong Kong and central governments should avoid seeking an interpretation unless there is a request by the courts or it’s endorsed by the legislature.

Yes, that makes sense, too, though it would mean both governments have to recognise and exercise restraint.

Arguably, both have done so in the past 20 years.

But Chan seems to have forgotten something: opportunistic provocation against Beijing.

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Right now, political activists Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Leung Kwok-hung are among those seeking a High Court judicial review against a joint checkpoint at the upcoming cross-border express rail terminus in West Kowloon.

It’s nothing more than grandstanding.

Worse, if they win, there would just be another interpretation to justify a joint checkpoint.

Perhaps Chan could say a few wise words to the Leungs and their colleagues.