Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Daunted by legal costs, unseated Hong Kong lawmakers may focus on by-elections instead of appeals

But ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung says it is crucial to bring case to Court of Final Appeal despite potential HK$3 million loss

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 11:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 11:41am

Hong Kong’s opposition camp appears to be adopting a strategy of pragmatism as it plots a comeback after the crippling blow it suffered when a court disqualified four of its lawmakers for improper oath-taking.

Only one of them is strongly leaning towards lodging an appeal, while the other three have yet to decide, though the prospect of massive legal fees worries them.

The focus is now on winning back the seats they lost through by-elections.

A weakened pro-democracy bloc in the Legislative Council is also expected tomorrow to back a funding request for HK$3.6 billion to boost the education sector, ­despite seeing the removal of the four from Legco as a “declaration of war” by the government.

Last Friday, the High Court stripped lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim of their seats for improper oath-taking. The court action was orchestrated by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Leung Kwok-hung yesterday said it was crucial for them to take their case to the Court of Final Appeal, but admitted that the legal costs could be a formidable obstacle.

“I have no choice but to bring the case to the [Court of Final Appeal],” he said. “But money is definitely the biggest concern of the four lawmakers.”

The veteran activist and politician estimated it would cost each of them HK$3 million, should they lose the appeal, though legal aid could bring the amount down to HK$1 million.

Leung was the only one among the four whose legal aid application was approved.

Law said they would all further consider their options and decide whether they should take their case all the way to the city’s top court.

Law, a youth leader who was newly elected last September, said he was not optimistic about securing legal aid and his camp needed to consider whether it would be better to recapture lost ground through by-elections first. He was looking at running again.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor plans to wait until the end of the legal process before holding by-elections.

There is also no word on by-elections to fill the seats vacated by two pro-independence lawmakers, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, who were disqualified for modifying their oaths. The pair are taking their case to the top court.

The latest round of disqualifications has cost the pro-democracy bloc its limited veto power in Legco, which means its rivals can curb the pan-democrats’ filibustering to block contentious bills.

A source from the pan-democratic camp said Leung could end up as the only lawmaker to appeal, though no final decision had been made. “He is more likely to win the case on merit and has a lighter financial burden compared with the others whose legal aid applications have been turned down,” the source said.

The Justice Defence Fund, set up by leaders of the Occupy movement, launched a crowd-funding campaign yesterday for the ousted lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the pan-democratic bloc failed to reach a consensus on their strategies in the final Finance Committee meeting tomorrow before Legco’s summer recess. They will debate the education funding.

Independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick argued that it should not be “business as usual” in the legislature in face of what he called political repression, but others were wary of blocking funding that the general public was in favour of.

Democrat James To Kun-sun, the convenor of the camp, said the disqualification saga had severely affected ties between the executive and legislative branches and urged the chief executive to show sincerity if she wanted the funding to be approved.