Protecting rule of law in Hong Kong will be ‘uphill battle’ says lawyers group, as they predict situation will get worse in city
- Progressive Lawyers Group makes assertion in new report, and points to Occupy case and Victor Mallet incident as causes for concern
A post-Occupy group formed by Hong Kong lawyers has warned the city faces an “uphill battle” in upholding the rule of law in 2019, as a member said the situation was likely to deteriorate.
The Progressive Lawyers Group, which is made up of about 100 lawyers and law students, published a report titled “The Good Fight: Hong Kong’s Uphill Battle for the Rule of Law” on Thursday.
The group highlighted a number of incidents from last year that had caused alarm over the city’s rule of law, including the prosecution of nine Occupy activists, and the government’s refusal to renew the working visa of British journalist Victor Mallet.
On the Occupy lawsuit, Chris Ng, one of the group’s convener’s, wondered if the charges against the activists had been appropriate.
Three founders of the Occupy movement, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming, faced three charges in court: conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and inciting others to incite.
Six other co-defendants faced one or two of these charges, which were common law offences, instead of the more frequently used statutory offences.
Ng questioned if the charges on some defendants had been repetitive, saying: “These legal issues have to be clarified at higher courts, or even at the Court of Final Appeal.”
Lawyers also said Mallet’s case had been a “de facto expulsion”, as the Financial Times journalist was later barred from entering the city as a visitor.
While officials have refused to give a reason for refusing to renew Mallet’s visa, the incident has been widely linked to the journalist’s role in chairing a talk by pro-independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin last August.
Chan is the founder of the Hong Kong National Party, which has since been banned by the Hong Kong government.
The group, however, declined to give an overall assessment of the rule of law in Hong Kong.
“We try not to simplify our analysis,” Jason Ng, another convenor of the group, said.
But the lawyer said he expected the situation to get worse.
“The deterioration of the rule of law will continue and will accelerate, mainly because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, regarding electoral reform,” he said.
In 2015, the government’s proposal to implement a two-stage voting process to select the city’s chief executive was turned down by the Legislative Council.
Critics of the proposal said it was not genuine universal suffrage, as candidates would first be screened by a nomination committee, before Hong Kong residents cast their ballots.
But pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, a lawyer, said that while there had been challenges facing the rule of law since last year, he would not describe it as an uphill battle.
“The government needs to be careful in safeguarding our rule of law, but I don’t think we slid backwards - our courts are still independent and supported by the people,” he said.
“The Occupy case actually showed that the rule of law was about law as well as order. In Britain there were also cases in which people can be jailed for inciting violence.”
Speaking a day earlier, the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she did not have the necessary circumstances to restart the reform, which had led to the 2014 Occupy protests.
“I would be not very responsible if I judge that I have the necessary circumstances and conditions to restart an exercise which will continue to be very divisive in society and drag down Hong Kong,” Lam said.
Lam also said the city’s rule of law is internationally renowned, pointing the fact that it was given a score of 94 out of 100 by the World Bank.
The Chief Executive Office has not yet responded to the Post’s request for comment on the report.