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Mainland China’s criminal law will also apply at Hong Kong’s rail link terminus

Jurisdiction will extend to trains and platforms as well as border clearance zone in leased area, sources say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 4:25pm

A jurisdictionally contentious plan to set up joint immigration and customs facilities at the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou is heading into further controversy with ­officers from the mainland to fully enforce criminal law as well there.

The Executive Council is set to endorse a plan on Tuesday for mainland officers to exercise full criminal jurisdiction on trains and platforms as well as the border clearance zone which will fall under the area leased to them when the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link opens for business next year, ­according to sources.

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The so-called “co-location” arrangement has long been a sticking point and is now a hot ­potato for the new administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, with critics concerned that allowing mainland immigration officers to exercise jurisdiction on Hong Kong soil would contravene the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Proponents of the arrangement question the point of building the HK$84.4 billion railway without housing such facilities under the same roof for practical purposes.

According to two sources who attended a special briefing on Monday, officers from the other side of the border would have the right to enforce mainland criminal law on top of customs and immigration rules on trains and platforms, while the railway tracks would be within the purview of Hong Kong.

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“The mainland government will be required to pay rent for the leased area, but the exact amount is yet to be confirmed,” a source said, adding that the lease would expire in 2047.

The West Kowloon station ­arrangement will be similar to that for the existing Shenzhen Bay port, where Hong Kong rents an area for enforcing border clearance for around HK$7 million a year.

Michael Tien Puk-sun, a Hong Kong deputy to China’s top legislature, the National People’s ­Congress (NPC), said it was likely that mainland law in full would be enforced in the leased area.

The lawmaker and former railway boss had earlier proposed that mainland officers should only exercise criminal jurisdiction, not enforce civil law, in the zone under their purview. But on Monday he revealed that the mainland side had decided it would be difficult to implement it.

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The pan-democrats have in the past warned of the implications of enforcing mainland criminal law at the terminus, as a Hongkonger wearing a T-shirt in support of a Chinese dissident, for example, could get into trouble on Hong Kong soil.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said it would be easier to handle accidents or maintenance if the tracks fell within the city’s jurisdiction, as any dispute or compensation could be handled under local law.

Leung expected the NPC to ­endorse a resolution on the railway deal first, and the city follow with the relevant legislation.

The co-location arrangement would not require any amendment to Annex 3 of the Basic Law, which lists exemptions to the rule that mainland law cannot be ­enforced in Hong Kong.

But Civic party lawmaker ­Tanya Chan, a barrister by trade, said she could not see how the ­co-location arrangement would adhere to the Basic Law .

“Even if the area is leased to the mainland, it is still a Hong Kong area,” she said. “If it can be challenged at will today, it can be changed any time.”