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Teresa Cheng

Hong Kong arbitration legal eagle Teresa Cheng set to take up justice secretary role on January 18

Rimsky Yuen to leave the administration next month

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 12:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 12:40pm

Arbitration legal eagle Teresa Cheng Yuek-wah will assume the role of Hong Kong’s justice secretary on January 18 after the incumbent, Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, resigned, the Post learned on Thursday.

Yuen is set to leave the administration next month. On Friday he will attend a rare group deliberation meeting of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) in Beijing with security chief John Lee Ka-chiu and transport minister Frank Chan Fan which will scrutinise a controversial plan for the high-speed rail link to mainland China.

Cheng – a senior counsel since 2000 and former chairwoman of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre – should be taking up the post on January 18, a government source told the Post on Thursday.

Yuen, asked if he had already tendered his resignation on Wednesday, said he had nothing to add at this stage. He said he had to clear the business on his desk before any further announcement.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said it had no comment on the matter.

In a separate interview with RTHK aired on Thursday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor praised Yuen as a very decent working partner.

“I would like to vindicate [the performance of] Yuen. He has worked his heart out over the past five years. If you think I am diligent, he is on a par with me,” Lam said. “I believe society will have a fairer judgment of Yuen today and in the future.”

Hong Kong justice minister Rimsky Yuen expected to step down in January

Asked if Yuen would finish his five-year term, Lam said she respected the personal decisions of any principal official and that “nothing lasts forever”.

It had long been reported that Yuen was determined to leave the government and resume private practice as a barrister after completing a five-year term under former chief executive Leung Chun-ying. But Lam persuaded him to stay on for a year to deal with the hot-potato issue of the joint checkpoint proposal, which would for the first time give mainland officials almost full jurisdiction over part of the West Kowloon terminal leased to them.

Yuen has been no stranger to controversy during his term in office. Apart from the co-location arrangement, he worked closely with Lam on political reform three years ago, which eventually unfolded with the 79-day Occupy movement.

He also raised the ire of pro-democracy supporters for asking for stiffer sentences for 16 activists – including Occupy student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung – and started a lawsuit with Leung against two pro-independence lawmakers which eventually unseated them.

Cheng completed her law degree at the University of London and had taken up posts in statutory bodies. She also worked as a deputy judge and later as a recorder at the Court of First Instance.

She represented the government in the landmark Congo case in 2011, which centred on Hong Kong’s policy on state immunity and triggered the first court request to Beijing for an interpretation of the Basic Law.

Lawyers from across the political spectrum praised her as communicative and knowledgeable in constitutional matters, but her political leanings remain unknown.

Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen sees no need to resign over Beijing interpretation

Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah said Cheng had been keeping a low profile in politics and he believed that would be helpful in what is a heavily split political landscape.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun suggested Yuen’s early departure might be fuelled by embarrassment over the government’s joint-checkpoint proposal, which appeared to deviate from what a senior Beijing official said. To suggested it might be better for someone new to take over the thorny issue.

Yuen has cited Article 20 of the Basic Law, which states that Hong Kong “may enjoy other powers” granted to it by the NPCSC or central government, as providing the legal basis for the plan.

But Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei was quoted last month as telling a visiting delegation of Hong Kong barristers that there had been no decision on the application of Article 20.