Carrie Lam says government will revisit guidelines on use of ‘Civic Square’ following High Court ruling of restrictions being unconstitutional
- The forecourt, in front of government headquarters, has been a popular location for protests, including one which saw the jailing of three activists
- Lam’s predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, had ordered the area sealed off shortly before the Occupy protests in September 2014
Hong Kong’s leader said the administration would revisit the guidelines for use of the forecourt outside government headquarters, a day after the High Court declared restrictions on when protesters can use the venue as unconstitutional.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, speaking before the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning, said she respected the ruling and the relevant departments, together with the Department of Justice, would study the judgment carefully and decide what step to take next.
“I have already asked the director of administration to revisit those guidelines and mechanisms to see, in light of the experiences last year, whether we can change or relax some of the requirements,” Lam said.
The chief executive stressed that it was her decision to reopen the area after she took office in July last year, saying that it “reflects my intention and sincerity to allow members of the public to come into the forecourt to express their views on government policies”.
“But since it is government property … we have to strike a balance in ensuring the smooth and efficient operation of government offices at the same time,” she said, adding that this was why the government later introduced some guidelines.
The High Court’s ruling on Monday came four years after retired photographer Cheung Tak-wing took the Director of Administration to court for refusing his application to use the forecourt on the sole basis that his event fell on a weekday.
The judge found the rules that limited public usage infringed people’s rights to freedom of expression. Pro-democracy lawmakers welcomed the judgment and urged the government to review its existing restrictions to allow more public assemblies.
The space in Admiralty – dubbed “Civic Square” by pro-democracy protesters – has been a popular spot for anti-government demonstrations. It was best known for being the base for protesters in 2012 against the proposed implementation of a Chinese national education curriculum in schools.
But it was sealed off by a 3m-high fence in September 2014 by Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying.
Soon after the forecourt was cut off, a group of student protesters stormed the area, two days before the start of the Occupy protests. Three of those involved, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, were jailed over the incident, but were later freed by the Court of Final Appeal.
Wong on Monday said the ruling was overdue as it would have justified their storming of the forecourt. Has it come earlier, he believed it would have had an influence on the initial judgments against him and his fellow protesters.
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Without naming the exact cases, Lam on Tuesday rejected comments that the latest ruling showed the court was wrong in some cases, adding that the independent judiciary laid down judgments on a case-by-case basis with evidence.
Last December Lam’s administration reopened the square as a public thoroughfare from 6am to 11pm every day, but maintained the condition that interested users seek prior approval from the director.
Just days before this year’s July 1 rally at the forecourt, the administration put flower pots on the flag-raising podium in the forecourt, which was seen as a way to prevent protesters occupying the area.
The administration also cordoned off the podium last month and said the second phase of greening was under way and the pots would be replaced with permanent plants.