A Hong Kong court on Friday suspended for seven days a ruling that the government’s face mask ban was unconstitutional, but warned the measure used to curb social unrest remained invalid. While police could in theory continue to make arrests, they would be doing so at their own risk as the suspension was not “a source of authority for the government to continue to act in pursuance of the laws declared by the court to be invalid”, the High Court said. Lawyers acting for those arrested for wearing masks during public assemblies were also expected to deploy the court’s reasoning to fight for their clients’ release against police, “leading to even more uncertainty and chaos”, because the judgment only suspended the conclusion, the court said. It granted a temporary suspension order until November 29, by which time the government was expected to appeal against the original ruling that enacting the mask ban by invoking a colonial-era emergency law was unconstitutional. On Thursday, the Department of Justice, which argued on the government’s behalf that the ban was necessary, asked for either a longer suspension order or a validity order, which required the court to declare both the mask ban and the use of the emergency law were valid. The court rejected both requests on Friday, finding the situation was not exceptional enough to justify a validity order. A longer suspension order would “seem more likely to fuel further battles than facilitate effective functioning of the law and government”, the court said in a 21-page ruling handed down on Friday evening. A police spokesman said the force would study the judgment without revealing if it would continue to enforce the law, but a police source said execution of the ban would be suspended for now. The decision came just days after the court’s ruling drew stern remarks from Beijing, seen by critics as a move to exert pressure on the independent judiciary. The city is gearing up for district council elections on Sunday when riot police will be deployed to ensure the four-yearly event is free from disruptions. Online appeals have been made urging people not to wear masks that day, so that pro-democracy voters can cast ballots without any issues. The court challenge was brought against the government by 24 pro-democracy lawmakers and activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung in early October, shortly after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced she would invoke a colonial-era emergency law, which gives her far-reaching powers, to enact the mask ban. On Monday, two High Court judges, Anderson Chow Ka-ming and Godfrey Lam Wan-ho, decided that the mask ban had gone beyond what was necessary to achieve the authorities’ goal to deter people from taking part in increasingly violent anti-government protests. They also ruled as unconstitutional Lam’s use of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, invoked on the grounds of public danger, to enact the ban, which carried a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine of HK$25,000. The ruling touched a nerve with Beijing. The following day, Zang Tiewei, spokesman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said only the Standing Committee had the power to decide whether Hong Kong laws complied with the Basic Law , the city’s mini-constitution. The remark prompted critics to express fears that Beijing could issue an interpretation to override the court’s ruling. Under the Basic Law, Beijing has the right to give an interpretation which is deemed as final and binding, and while accepted by the legal fraternity, is also seen as a last resort, which if used prematurely could weaken the judiciary. Following the ruling, the Department of Justice wrote to the two judges, applying for the validity and suspension orders. On Friday, the judges formally declared the Emergency Regulations Ordinance incompatible with the Basic Law, and invalidated the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation, the mask ban. But the judges also immediately ordered such declarations to be suspended as they recognised their judgment would soon be subject to an appeal. A Department of Justice source said the appeal would be filed next week. “In view of the great public importance of the issues raised in this case, and the highly exceptional circumstances that Hong Kong is currently facing, we consider it right that we should grant a short interim suspension order,” they wrote. But before that, the judges made it clear their judgment was not intended to give any encouragement for people to wear masks in public assemblies and processions, as the department’s lawyer suggested during the hearing a day earlier. “Nothing in our judgment condones the commission of crime or violence by any person with or without face covering,” the judges said. “Nor does anything in our judgment support the illegitimate use of face covering for the purpose of concealing one’s identity while committing unlawful or violent use.” Dennis Kwok, the lawmaker who led the pro-democracy bloc in the case, said he was saddened that the mask law would remain in force for seven days. “The government should simply drop the law and the related prosecutions,” he said. A lawyer, who preferred to remain anonymous as he was involved in the case, said the suspension was of no use in practice because it lasted for just a week. The judges said a suspension order did not “provide a shield to legal liability”. With the judges’ wording, he said: “They are basically asking police to make arrests at their own risk.” Another lawyer acting for the lawmakers said those arrested during the suspension would still be eligible to take civil proceedings against police, when the period was over, as long as the appeal courts later upheld the ruling. Chinese University law professor Stuart Hargreaves said the suspension meant police would not be at risk of being held liable for contempt of court during the seven days. Barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wai, a member of the government’s top advisory body, said the court’s approach apparently was to let the appeal judges deal with the matter as the justice department could ask them for the orders.