Hong Kong’s embattled leader on Tuesday said there was no “separation of powers” in the city’s executive-led political system, but insisted there was nonetheless judicial independence and a clear division of work between different branches of the administration. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also said that while the city’s mini-constitution stated that the chief executive is both the leader of the city and its government, her administration was subject to rules governing the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Legal scholars said the Basic Law did provide for a form of separation of power, but a pro-establishment lawmaker said this could not be compared to the British version as it would be politically unacceptable in the local context. Lam’s remarks came after it was discovered last month that the phrase “separation of powers”, among other politically sensitive concepts, had been deleted from coming editions of liberal studies textbooks. “There is no separation of powers in Hong Kong. I fully support the secretary for education’s statement, and the consultancy service,” Lam said before her weekly meeting of the Executive Council. She was referring to comments from Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung the day before dismissing claims that the changes to liberal studies textbooks amounted to political censorship. “There is no room for vagueness on Hong Kong’s constitutional order. So what the Education Bureau has done deserved praise,” she added. The chief executive said that, under the Basic Law, Hong Kong was an inalienable special administrative region of China, with the city’s leader as the core of an executive-led system. “Many people misunderstand that the chief executive is only the head of government. But in fact I am both the head of the government, and also the head of the special administrative region,” Lam added. “Under Article 48 of the Basic Law, I don’t just manage [the executive branch]. The chief executive has the power to appoint or remove judges of the courts at all levels, and approve the introduction of motions regarding revenues or expenditure to the Legislative Council too.” Even so, Lam maintained the three branches of government had “their respective responsibilities”, and “cooperate among each other, but there are also checks and balances among them”. Hong Kong publishers make changes to liberal studies textbooks after voluntary review Liberal studies, which was introduced in 2009 as a compulsory subject for senior secondary pupils to strengthen their critical thinking, has become a controversial topic in recent years as some teaching materials were deemed biased and blamed by pro-Beijing figures for radicalising students. Most of the liberal studies textbooks used in the city’s classrooms come from six publishers, all of which took part in a voluntary consultancy service rolled out by the Education Bureau last year. The reviews are carried out by a team made up of academics and education professionals. It emerged last month that among the first batch of revised textbooks, the phrase “separation of powers” was deleted from the module about contemporary Hong Kong by at least two publishers. The idea that Hong Kong’s executive, legislative and judicial powers operate independently has been debated over the years. In 2014, Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, “sets out clearly the principle of the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary” and the different roles they played. But Beijing and Hong Kong officials have since said the city’s governance model was not based on “separation of powers”, and was instead “executive-led”, according to the Basic Law. Former Hong Kong leader blames liberal studies for encouraging violent protests Lam on Tuesday maintained that when judges cited the phrase “separation of powers” in the past, they were mainly talking about the division of work among the three branches. “Hong Kong’s judiciary exercises judicial power independently … But you would also remember that [sometimes judges] would say that political issues are for the executive and legislative bodies to decide, and judges only make fair adjudications based on evidence,” she said. Lam said examples of checks and balances included the rule allowing judicial review on executive decisions. “Legco can agree or disagree with the recommendation for appointment of the chief justice, while in very specific situations, the chief executive can dissolve the legislature,” she added. Lam said her government would continue to clarify misconceptions about the city’s political system and constitutional order. The people can see clearly whether it was her who changed her stance, or it was other people who have understood the concept all along Dennis Kwok, Civic Party lawmaker Meanwhile, the Education Bureau on Tuesday sought to dismiss concerns that it had removed a document about separation of powers from its website out of “political correctness”. The powerpoint was prepared by then-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu-oi for a talk organised by the bureau in 2011 on the Basic Law and Hong Kong’s rule of law. In the 27-page presentation, Chan, who is now a non-permanent judge of the top court, said that the “separation of powers” was a feature of Hong Kong’s governmental system, and was intended to avoid a concentration and abuse of power. The document, which was reportedly still available on the bureau’s website on Monday, was inaccessible online as of Tuesday. In a statement, the bureau said: “It is a usual practice of the bureau to regularly remove or update old files [on its website]. The presentation was among the old information there. The officer in charge had removed the document from the website about a year ago. But it is possible that the path of the hyperlink was archived [and made accessible] on the internet.” The bureau maintained that the main theme of Mr Justice Chan’s presentation was to highlight that Hong Kong enjoyed an independent judiciary under the Basic Law, and that this did not contradict the views of the chief executive and the education secretary about the lack of separation of powers in the city’s political system. Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector in Legco, said Lam’s remarks dismissing separation of powers were laughable and disrespectful to the judiciary. “The people can see clearly whether it was her who changed her stance, or it was other people who have understood the concept all along,” he said. “In the past 20 years, the separation of powers was upheld and cited [by judges] in countless court cases. That was because Hong Kong is a common law jurisdiction, and the separation of powers is an important principle in common law.” Under ‘one country, two systems’, we should not be obsessed with the phrase ‘separation of powers’. The important thing is to look at the substance in the Basic Law Senior legal source A senior legal source said Lam and Yeung were simply following Beijing’s line on there being no “separation of powers” in Hong Kong. “Separation of powers in the Western sense involves full democracy and, of course, Hong Kong does not have it,” the insider said. “Under ‘one country, two systems’, we should not be obsessed with the phrase ‘separation of powers’. The important thing is to look at the substance in the Basic Law which confers and allocates power on the executive, legislature and the judiciary respectively. The judiciary is independent in adjudicating disputes. As pointed out before, judges have no master, political or otherwise. Their fidelity is only to the law. The chief executive is subject to the law and jurisdiction of the courts.” The insider noted that under the Basic Law, there were limitations on the power of the courts. “For example, Article 19 states that Hong Kong courts have no jurisdiction over acts of state, such as defence and foreign affairs,” the source said. Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes agreed, saying there was no need for the concept to be headlined for it to exist. He acknowledged that one might argue Hong Kong’s model did not exist in its purest form since, for example, a member of Lam’s cabinet, the Executive Council, could also sit in the legislature. He also noted Lam’s “slightly elevated” status, in that she was accountable to Beijing. Johannes Chan Man-mun, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Hong Kong, said Lam was confused over the power dynamics between Hong Kong and the central government, and the separation of power in Hong Kong. “The essence of the doctrine of separation of powers is about checks and balances so no individual or institution will have unlimited powers,” he said, calling Lam’s attempt to frame it as division of labour “playing with words”. Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a member of the Basic Law Committee which advises the Chinese legislature on matters related to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, said under the city’s constitutional framework, there could not be the kind of separation of powers seen in the British model. At least 14 arrested as hundreds gather to mark anniversary of Prince Edward station chaos Carrie Lam also commented on police action on Monday night as hundreds brought flower tributes to mark the one-year anniversary of Prince Edward MTR station being stormed by police. Issuing a statement on Facebook, police said officers pulled away a woman while trying to arrest a man beside her and subsequently used pepper spray. But it soon came to the force’s attention that the woman was pregnant and was feeling unwell. An ambulance was called to the scene to send her to the Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei for treatment. Asked to comment on the incident, Lam said: “Law enforcement work has caused discomfort to a pregnant woman. The police expressed their concern, and of course I would do the same, I hope that this kind of thing would not happen again.” She added that police would not need to enforce the law if no one broke it.