Hong Kong extradition bill
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Supporters of the government’s plan to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance call for justice and the rule of law to be upheld, in Admiralty on April 17. Photo: Dickson Lee

Letters | No question Hong Kong needs stronger extradition law: but it must address trust deficit on implementation

  • Cooperation across jurisdictions helps deter crime, as it increases expected costs for criminals
  • The focus of public discussion on changes to Hong Kong’s extradition law should be on how the new arrangements will be implemented
The Hong Kong government has proposed to amend the extradition law in the wake of a suspected murder case in Taiwan last year. Because Hong Kong does not have a formal extradition agreement with Taiwan, the suspect cannot be sent there for investigation and trial. Some local people, including fugitives, have protested against the proposal out of fear of undue extradition to territories with different legal and judicial systems.

The concern of the protesters is valid, because some crimes have different definitions and sanctions across jurisdictions. The proposal to allow for extradition of fugitives on a case-by-case basis runs the risk of compromising a person’s rights when there is wide discrepancy in what is considered unlawful.

Nevertheless, many crimes are universal. It is unjust for fugitives charged with these crimes to be at large because of territorial boundaries. For example, murder is a serious offence and most people would not object to extraditing murderers to other countries for criminal trials.

Setting aside the issue of punishing criminals, not having extradition arrangements may actually invite more crimes. Some studies have suggested that criminals choose to commit offences in jurisdictions where conviction is least likely or punishment is smallest. In recent work, we found that the number of distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyberattack victims decreased in countries joining the Convention on Cybercrime, but increased in those that did not.

The Convention on Cybercrime is an international law providing a substantive legal framework to formally criminalise and deter cybercrimes. It contains specific provisions on international cooperation, including mutual assistance in crime investigation and extradition of criminals.

An important finding in our research is that the decrease in DDoS attacks was largely caused by the mutual assistance provision. The implication is that cooperation across jurisdictions helps deter crimes because it increases criminals’ expected costs. Extradition is one major provision in such cooperation. By strengthening the extradition law, the government is moving in the right direction, towards discouraging crimes and removing the shelter for fugitives in Hong Kong.

The underlying concern about the proposed law is the trust in implementation, not the extradition itself. We should [be] focusing on the implementation, instead of debating whether the extradition law is needed
Therefore, we should uphold the principle of extraditing unambiguous criminals. To address concerns about undue extradition, we should focus on implementation. The government’s proposal to exempt offences related to fiscal matters limits the coverage of the law. It implicitly protects a selected group of people and sends a bad signal to the public, that some people are treated differently from others. Worse still, it might attract fugitives who committed these offences in other jurisdictions to flee to Hong Kong. We certainly don’t want Hong Kong to become a home for criminals or felons.

A better implementation might be to put in place a system and deliberate process to handle extradition requests. For example, we can design a system that involves judicial personnel or some notary public, together with the law enforcement agencies, to decide whether an extradition request is fair and should be granted. The underlying concern about the proposed law is the trust in implementation, not the extradition itself. We should hit the nail on the head, by focusing on the implementation, instead of debating whether the extradition law is needed.

Kai-Lung Hui, chair professor, HKUST Business School