Justice secretary brushes off international body’s lowered rule of law ranking for Hong Kong
- Hong Kong slips three places to 22nd out of 140 in international ranking for rule of law, but justice secretary blames bias
- City’s strong showing in ‘absence of corruption’ and ‘order and security’ highlighted by government
Hong Kong’s justice minister has maintained that the city is still in a good place in terms of law and order and its ability to stamp out corruption despite sliding three spots in the latest global ranking for rule of law.
Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok also brushed aside concerns over the city’s human rights situation on Thursday, a day after the non-governmental World Justice Project ranked Hong Kong at 22nd, down from 19th last year.
The independent body, with offices in America, Singapore and Mexico and with a mission to promote the rule of law, examined 140 jurisdictions for the report.
Lam insisted the lowered score the city was given for human rights was because of biased perceptions.
“We all know what kind of attacks the outside world has been launching at Hong Kong,” Lam said on Thursday.
The organisation gave Hong Kong a rating of 0.73, the lowest since it started to list the city in 2015, with 1 being the best. The city hovered around 0.76 to 0.77 in previous years.
“We can’t just take a simplistic view. Is there a huge difference between the 19th and 22nd place when there are 140 jurisdictions involved?” Lam asked.
“We have a lot of rankings, like that of universities or restaurants. They go up and down a few spots every now and then, but it doesn’t mean real changes.”
Lam, a qualified barrister, appealed to the public to look at the breakdown of the rankings and highlighted that the city was still 9th for “absence of corruption” and 6th for “order and security”.
“They are an essential part of the rule of law and we are within the top 10,” he said.
But Hong Kong scored just 0.58 on “constraints on government powers” this year, a drop compared to its highest score of 0.71 in 2015.
The city’s rating for fundamental rights dropped from 0.7 to 0.59 over the same period.
A government spokesman said the city’s 22nd position was “higher than some Western countries which often unreasonably criticise the rule of law and human rights situation of Hong Kong”, but did not single out any nations.
Hong Kong was sandwiched between France in 21st place and Spain in 23rd in the rankings, with both getting the same 0.73 overall ratings.
The city outpaced the United States, which notched up a score of 0.71, which placed it 26th in the league table.
But Hong Kong trailed behind rival Singapore, which was 17th with a score of 0.78, a position unchanged from the last report.
Lam also defended the government’s latest decision to amend the law – rather than file an appeal – after a court ruled against the government’s invalidation of 20,000 coronavirus jab exemptions.
The ruling was the result of a judicial challenge over whether the government could dismiss the 20,000 certificates granted by seven doctors alleged to have issued false documents.
The health authorities amended the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance on Tuesday, a move that sparked controversy over whether the government had shown respect for the judicial process.
But Lam said the amendment should not be viewed as the government having little confidence in the court.
He said several legal options were available and the government had opted for the one which put the public interest at the forefront.
“We had to be prompt and resolute, while the decision had to be determinative,” he said.
Lam dismissed suggestions by some lawmakers that the government should have proceeded with the appeal and the legal amendments.
He said that course would be a waste of judicial resources and that the matter would be too “academic” by then to justify the court’s scrutiny.
Lam also outlined a plan to promote the city as a legal centre of excellence, in line with Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s policy address last week, and pledged to increase public understanding of the rule of law and constitutional order.
He said his bureau would work with other departments, such as education and the home and youth affairs, to better inform the public on the nation’s constitution and the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, as well as on the national security legislation and the principles of common law.
Lam promised to forge closer links between the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese legal systems on civil law affairs, such as the service of legal documents and recognition of rulings.
He said a team would be set up specialising in the Greater Bay Area, in line with Beijing’s plan to turn Hong Kong and Macau into an innovation hub alongside nine mainland cities.
The policy address also focused on Asean member states, southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries.
American lawmakers from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in July called for sanctions against Hong Kong prosecutors over human rights, but Lam accused the group of being an agent of political persecution.
Lam said, however, he would continue engagement with representatives of Western countries and would travel if needed.
“I am not afraid of going to any place. The most important thing is that it will give me a fair chance to answer,” he said.
“I am confident that I will have sufficient reasons to tell them that they have no reason to raise these unreasonable matters.”
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office highlighted the United States’ position in the table and questioned if it was “qualified” to “boss around” Hong Kong.
A spokesman said the US was “lagging far behind by several blocks” compared with the city.
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung