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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong challenges to co-location law will not force Beijing’s hand, says member of China’s top legislative body

Challengers file more judicial reviews as acting leader Matthew Cheung signs legislation allowing mainland laws to be enforced on Hong Kong soil

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 7:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 11:40pm

Hong Kong’s sole member of the nation’s top legislative body on Friday dismissed concerns that Beijing would act against mounting legal challenges to legislation allowing mainland laws to be enforced at a rail terminus in the city.

The remarks by Tam Yiu-chung, who serves on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), came after three more judicial reviews were filed at the High Court against the so-called co-location ordinance, which was gazetted after acting chief executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung signed the legislation.

The law was passed in the Legislative Council last week amid an outcry from pan-democrats. It allows for passengers to clear both Hong Kong and mainland border checks at a single location, which means mainland laws will be enforced on Hong Kong soil for the first time.

The joint border check point will be set up at the West Kowloon terminus of a high-speed rail linking the city to Guangzhou.

The judicial reviews filed on Friday were made by NeoDemocrats’ Jeff Ku Chun-hin, veteran applicant Kwok Cheuk-kin, and social worker Hendrick Lui Chi-hang, after former lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang filed separately on Thursday.

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The challengers argue that ordinance contravenes the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

Lui, represented by veteran senior counsel Martin Lee Chu-ming, also invited the local court to declare NPCSC’s endorsement to the co-location plan “invalid” and “does not have any status of law in Hong Kong”.

Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes earlier warned that the legal challenges could, “very likely”, trigger Beijing to interpret the Basic Law on when to apply national laws in Hong Kong.

However, that was refuted by Tam, who spoke in Beijing on Friday during a regular meeting of the NPCSC. He said he saw no need for an interpretation.

“The NPCSC has already issued a decision after considering all factors in detail, and the decision has a legal basis,” Tam said. “I don’t think there is any need for the NPCSC to interpret the Basic Law on the co-location issue.”

The NPCSC endorsed the co-location arrangement in December.

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Maria Tam Wai-chu, who replaced former justice minister Leung Oi-sie on Friday as vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee – which advises the NPCSC on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – said the top legislature upheld the power to interpret the Basic Law, but did not want to speculate on the matter.

At the centre of the legal arguments against the co-location ordinance is whether it contravenes the Basic Law, especially Article 18, which states national laws shall not be applied in Hong Kong, except laws listed in Annex III.

In his application, Ku argued he was not making a direct challenge against the NPCSC’s endorsement, but challenging the law’s legality under the Basic Law. He said the NPCSC’s endorsement did not authorise or mandate the Hong Kong government and Legco to act in breach of the Basic Law.

Ku and Leung Kwok-hung separately argued they were not making a direct challenge against the NPCSC’s endorsement, but challenging the law’s legality under the Basic Law. They said the NPCSC’s endorsement did not authorise or mandate the Hong Kong government and the Legislative Council to act in breach of the Basic Law.

Lui’s application however questioned the legality of the NPCSC endorsement, arguing it was invalid as it would “usurp” the power of the courts, which have exclusive power to adjudicate cases in the city.

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Handing in a legal aid application for the case on Friday, the former lawmaker conceded that he could not press his case without help paying for a lawyer and other legal fees while accusing pro-Beijing media of applying pressure on Hong Kong’s legal community.

“The Communist Party is exerting pressure to the Legal Aid Department who serves Hong Kong’s judiciary. The Legal Aid Department is run by civil servants who are supposed to be politically neutral. I hope they will not be influenced,” Leung said.

Ku said he had applied for legal aid on Wednesday.

University of Hong Kong legal scholar Eric Cheung Tat-ming said there was a good chance the reviews would be heard by the High Court.

“The key issue of the case is whether the local legislation has contravened the Basic Law,” Cheung said. “I personally think there are reasonable arguments.”

The court will hold a hearing on whether to review the cases on July 9.

Meanwhile, Legco’s house committee vetoed a no-confidence motion against president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen over his handling of the debate on the co-location bill, with 35 pro-establishment lawmakers backing Leung in the vote.

The 25 pan-democrats said they would raise the motion again in the full council.

The high-speed rail, which costs HK$84.4 billion (US$11 billion), is expected to open in September.