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Aviation

Hong Kong’s airport authority changed baggage rule after CY Leung security row

Legal challenge begins at High Court with barrister accusing authority of having “frivolous” attitude towards security

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 11:47pm

Hong Kong’s airport authority has replaced the security rule at the heart of the legal row surrounding the city’s former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, it was revealed in the High Court on Wednesday.

Leung reportedly pressured airport staff into taking a bag his daughter had left behind to her in a restricted area, breaching strict security protocols in 2016.

The original rule, which governed the screening process for luggage that had been left unattended, required passengers to be present at the screening of “all cabin baggage”. In its place, the new version only requires a passenger’s presence when a suspicious piece of luggage needs to be checked for a second time.

The original version was removed and replaced with a new one in April, the court heard, just two months before the present court hearing, following allegations Leung had flouted the rule.

Barrister Gladys Li SC, representing flight attendant Law Mei-mei who applied for the judicial review on the grounds that the authority’s actions on March 27, 2016, were “illegal” and “procedurally improper”, said the rule, which was key to the case, had been changed to “remove the applicant’s ability to rely on the rule”.

She dismissed the authority’s claim the change had been made to save the court’s time and costs, and said the authority was not taking the matter seriously.

“There is nothing frivolous about aviation security,” she said.

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But Benjamin Yu SC, who represented the Airport Authority and Aviation Security Company, the two respondents, brushed off Li’s accusations, saying the amendment was made for the sake of improving efficiency and bringing it in line with international standards.

In 2016, Leung Chung-yan’s bag was taken from a non-restricted area to a secure one by airport staff, seemingly in direct contradiction of section 6.2.10 of the Aviation Security Programme which said: “All screening of cabin baggage shall be conducted in the presence of the passenger.”

After the incident her father denied that he had exerted any pressure in airport staff.

However, the authority, and Aviation Security Company, said a passenger’s presence was not required during a general check.

The old rule was reviewed after the incident, and the High Court heard on Wednesday that a passenger’s presence is now only required when suspicious baggage is subject to a second security check, as laid out in the new rule.

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What appeared to be a politically-charged event that put the city’s former leader’s credibility on the line two years ago also put the security of the Hong Kong International Airport under the spotlight.

Opening her case on Wednesday, Li said it would be incongruent to other rules in the book if the passenger’s presence was not required at the first check. In another rule, it is stated that a passenger would have to give “tacit consent” before their luggage was examined.

“If they’re not there, how could they be assumed to have given tacit consent,” she said.

She also criticised government officials for being “partisan” in the case, by backing the authority.

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When filing his written testimony, Principal Assistant Secretary for Security Alex Chan Yuen-tak opened it by saying he was authorised to speak on behalf of the authority “in the opposition of the judicial review”, the court heard.

However, Chan should only be stating facts rather than taking sides, Li said.

In response, Yu argued the case had been rendered “academic” since the rule in question had already been changed.

He said even if it had not, the way to interpret the old rule should be left to airport security staff using their own language. Although the rule said all screenings, it should not be interpreted within such strict parameters.

Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming will hand down his judgment on a later day.

Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation spokeswoman Carol Ng Man-yee, who attended the hearing with other members, later told reporters that they were not informed about the rule change.