Hong Kong airport security up to international standards, minister insists after baggage screening row
John Lee Ka-chiu says procedures strictly in line with standards set by International Civil Aviation Organisation, as row rumbles on about screening bags without owners present
Hong Kong’s security minister has defended procedures at the city’s airport following a row about a rule change to allow for the screening of passenger bags without their owners present.
John Lee Ka-chiu insisted security was in line with international standards following concerns that it had been compromised by the amendment to the Hong Kong Aviation Security Programme.
“The programme was produced strictly in line with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation,” he said on Sunday.
“Our existing aviation security procedures are similar to those exercised at international airports in various countries. And the implementation of our security programme has been smooth.
“Therefore, I am confident in Hong Kong’s aviation security.”
His defence came following debate about the possibility of the government facing a legal challenge over its decision to change the baggage rule, a prospect Lee said he was aware of.
“I have noticed some people openly claiming they are considering a judicial review against the amendment to the Aviation Security Programme,” he said.
The comments came as he made his way to Beijing on Sunday with 120 law-enforcement officials for a meeting with their mainland Chinese counterparts.
During the three-day visit, he will present preparatory work by the Security Bureau and Hong Kong’s law-enforcement departments for two new immigration checkpoints created for a cross-border high-speed railway and a bridge linking to Macau and the mainland city of Zhuhai.
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Lee said officials had conducted tests and drills inside the West Kowloon station for the rail line.
“We tested each department’s system and operations with drills of different scales. We also tested their collective operations in drills engaging multiple disciplined services,” he said. “The results were satisfying.”
Plans for daily operations and emergency management had been mapped out with the mainland officers to be stationed at the terminal, Lee added. The rail link is slated to open on September 23.
The delegation to the capital comprises Hong Kong’s five disciplined services, including police and customs. They will meet Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, on Sunday evening, and Vice-Premier Han Zheng at the Great Hall of the People on Monday afternoon.
Concerns about airport security have persisted since it emerged in 2016 that a forgotten bag belonging to the daughter of then chief executive Leung Chun-ying had been delivered to her at a boarding gate in March that year.
The incident prompted its own judicial review filed by flight attendant Law Mei-mei, and eventually spurred the change by Lee’s Security Bureau to the Aviation Security Programme.
On Thursday Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that airport bosses broke security rules when they allowed for the delivery of the bag.
In light of the ruling, two legal professionals on Friday suggested there could be another judicial review lodged, this time over the amendment to the Aviation Security Programme.
But Carol Ng Man-yee, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation, of which Law was a member, said the group currently had no plans to file another judicial review against the bureau.
“It has been only three days [since the court ruling],” Ng said. “We haven’t had a chance to discuss further action, and have never thought about [filing another judicial review].”
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty, said a second judicial review was possible because the bureau had changed the rules for its own advantage.
Bond Ng, a solicitor who had been helping the Cabin Crew Federation with the first judicial review, said he would carefully consider the idea of lodging another one.
The baggage incident turned into a political furore for Leung, whose term ended last year. At issue was whether a cabin bag could be taken through security screening without the passenger accompanying it – in this case, Leung Chung-yan.
In his 50-page ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming declared that decisions made by the Airport Authority and the Aviation Security Company (Avesco) contravened the Hong Kong Aviation Security Programme in force at the time.
Chow concluded that the government had amended the security rules this April – 14 months after the judicial review had been filed – specifically to address the Leung case.
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“The secretary for security did not amend the HKASP prior to the leave hearing. Nevertheless, the respondents contended at the hearing that the application for judicial review was academic. After the court had rejected that contention, the Civil Aviation Department and the secretary for security then took steps to amend the HKASP,” Chow wrote in his verdict.
“In other words, the target of the amendments was the present litigation.”
The changes involved sections 6.2.10 and 6.2.11 of the programme.
Section 6.2.10 stipulated that “all screening of cabin baggage shall be conducted in the presence of the passenger”. That was deleted. The new section, 6.2.11, only stipulates that secondary searches whereby bags are opened for inspection must be done with the owner. Routine X-ray screening can be performed without the passenger.