Ousted Hong Kong lawmakers Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching lose final bid to regain seats
Pro-independence pair were last year disqualified over oaths of office; city’s leader Carrie Lam says by-elections to replace them will be ‘fair and just’
Hong Kong’s top court on Friday rejected a final bid by two disqualified pro-independence lawmakers to be reinstated, putting paid to their political ambitions and affecting the opposition camp’s chances of recapturing their seats in later by-elections.
The Court of Final Appeal’s refusal to allow Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching to appeal their case left them with no chance of being reinstated in the Legislative Council.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li and permanent Court of Final Appeal judges Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok said the localist pair did not have a reasonably arguable case, and they would explain their ruling later.
Lawmakers and political commentators said it was now up to two other disqualified opposition legislators, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai, to decide whether they would launch their own appeals.
Only Leung Kwok-hung has so far indicated he will do so.
A lawyer who asked not to be named said Friday’s ruling would have a negative impact on any appeal by Lau and Baggio Leung as well as two other ousted colleagues, former student activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung and academic Edward Yiu Chung-yim. They were all unseated over improper oath-taking.
A disappointed Baggio Leung said outside court: “We sincerely apologise [to the public that] we cannot protect the results of the Legco elections in September last year.”
He urged judges to safeguard the rule of law, saying the system had been abused by the local government and Beijing.
“They are the only ones who can save the people now,” he said.
The pair revealed they had been left with a HK$12 million legal bill, and said they were “mentally prepared to declare bankruptcy”.
The pair’s oath-taking antics, which featured anti-China slogans and banners in the Legco chamber on October 12 last year, prompted Beijing to issue an interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and make such offences punishable by disqualification.
Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his justice minister took the two to court and had them stripped of their seats on November 15.
The case centred on parts of the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance and the Basic Law dealing with requirements for solemnity and sincerity in oath-taking, and whether the court should interfere with the legislature.
Both the Court of First Instance and Court of Appeal had earlier ruled against the pair.
Baggio Leung’s counsel, British barrister David Pannick QC, argued on Friday that the case was not a matter of constitutional law, and only the city’s law should be applied, which meant the court should not interfere with the legislature.
Pannick also pressed judges to “further interpret” Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law denying the lawmakers a second chance to take their oaths.
He also argued that the interpretation, which came after they took their oaths, should not have a retroactive effect.
But Mr Justice Ribeiro said Beijing’s ruling was binding on the court.
“What should we do?” he said.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday said her government would arrange by-elections to fill the seats vacated by the localist pair “according to the law” and free of political considerations. The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau would “study the arrangement for by-elections immediately”, she said.
No date has been set for the by-elections, which is a matter of great concern to the opposition camp.
If the seats vacated by Yau and Lau in the Kowloon West constituency were to be filled in one go, one of the seats would likely fall into the hands of the pan-democrats’ pro-establishment rivals. This could be avoided if Lau lodges an appeal.
It would be a similar scenario in the New Territories East constituency, where Baggio Leung and Leung Kwok-hung’s seats are up for grabs.
Chinese University of Hong Kong political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said any by-election should be conducted as soon as possible. But he suggested the government should save taxpayers’ money by starting with the seats left vacant by disqualified lawmakers who had run out of appeal channels or decided not to mount any legal challenge.