Hong Kong Basic Law

Exchanges between two legal systems must be encouraged

It is disappointing that a course on the common law, delivered by the Hong Kong Bar Association at Peking University, has been suspended indefinitely

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2018, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2018, 8:46pm

One of the striking features of the arrangements put in place for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 was the continuation of the city’s legal system, so different from that of the mainland. The Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, requires the judicial system inherited from the days of British rule to be maintained, except for the creation of the Court of Final Appeal.

More than 20 years later, the hallmarks of Hong Kong’s legal system remain. The common law, independent judiciary, judicial review and jury system all continue. Even the traditional wigs and gowns are still worn. The legal system remains one of the city’s greatest assets. But there have been many challenges and disputes since the handover, especially when Hong Kong and mainland systems interact. There is a need for people on both sides of the border to have a better knowledge of the other system.

It is therefore disappointing that a course on the common law, delivered by the Hong Kong Bar Association at Peking University, has been suspended indefinitely. The course, which saw more than 20 barristers teaching undergraduates and postgraduates in Beijing about core elements of the common law system, such as the doctrine of precedent, had been running for eight years. Last month, Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes revealed it had suspended the course indefinitely after two barristers specialising in human rights were barred by the university from teaching. Dykes also said he had been told not to go to a closing ceremony for the course in Beijing.

Beijing university bars Hong Kong human rights lawyers from teaching

One of the two lawyers concerned, Cheung Yiu-leung, said he was told by the university’s coordinator of the course, Jiang Shigong, that it had been pressured by the central government to ban him and fellow barrister Hector Pun from teaching the course. Cheung suggested the election of Dykes, a prominent human rights lawyer, to head the Bar in January may have made Beijing less friendly towards the organisation. Jiang, however, told RTHK that no closing ceremony was held for the course this year and this had nothing to do with the political stance of the association’s chairman. He described the Bar’s decision to suspend the course as “puzzling and regretful” and said Dykes could visit to forge future cooperation. Jiang also told mainland news media the course contents and instructor changed every year.

It is to be hoped that the two lawyers were not blacklisted for political reasons. Exchanges between lawyers and law students are to be encouraged as they help forge a better understanding of the two different legal systems. The course run by the Bar was only one example of such interaction, but it is well worth retaining. Hopefully, matters will be resolved and it can resume.