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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong justice chief welcomes legal challenges to joint rail checkpoint

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung admits more must be done to boost public confidence in the arrangement, which will see mainland laws enforced in part of the rail terminus, as first judicial review against plan lodged

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 11:31pm

Hong Kong’s justice chief said on Wednesday he welcomed any legal challenges to the government’s decision to let mainland officers enforce national laws in part of the local terminus of the cross-border express rail link, as two judicial reviews were filed against the plan.

But Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung admitted the government needed to do more to boost public confidence in the plan, saying that could not be achieved by tackling the issue in court.

Yuen’s remarks came as legal experts slammed the proposal, which they said would set a dangerous precedent in Hong Kong, as they feared the enforcement of mainland laws could, in future, be extended to other areas of the city.

“I do not mind handling [the dispute] through legal channels,” Yuen told Commercial Radio. “I totally accept different legal points of view. This is healthy.”

Yuen restated his confidence in withstanding legal challenges and said the administration had no plan to ask for an interpretation from the standing committee of China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, should it lose the case.

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The Hong Kong government on Tuesday unveiled at long last details on the idea of setting up a joint immigration checkpoint at the local terminus of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

Under the plan, a quarter of the terminus would be leased to the mainland as its designated port area, where mainland officers would have full jurisdiction, apart from a few exceptions.

Hong Kong has no power to lease out land to allow the mainland to exercise control. The current plan is for the government to seek authorisation from the NPC Standing Committee under Article 20 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that Beijing can grant Hong Kong power it does not already have.

Yuen likened it to a flat owner asking his tenant to lease a room to him, after he found out he actually needed more space.

“I do not see any legal problem there,” he said.

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But pan-democratic legal heavyweight Martin Lee Chu-ming, who sat on the committee that drafted the Basic Law, said the plan violated the legislative intent of Article 20.

“Article 20 was intended to grant Hong Kong more powers in its autonomy, instead of giving it the power to castrate itself,” Lee, a senior lawyer, said.

Two judicial applications were filed against the joint checkpoint plan, a day after the Executive Council endorsed it.

The first was filed by Cheung Chau resident Kwok Cheuk-kin, who said the proposed arrangement would violate some provisions of the Basic Law, including Article 18, which says no mainland laws should be applied in the city unless they are listed in Annexe 3 of the mini-constitution.

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The other judicial review was jointly lodged by social worker Hendick Lui Chi-hang and a retired man whose name is transliterated as Li Ka-lim. The social worker was the one taken away last week by mainland officers after he recited Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo’s work at the Lo Wu checkpoint. He was later released.

The pair also argued that the proposed arrangement breached various articles of the Basic Law, including Article 18 and the freedoms guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.