Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, the chief executive’s top media aide, has said that Hong Kong’s political structure is not based on separation of powers, and hence it is reasonable for the Department of Justice to ask for a judicial review against the Legislative Council.
Fung’s comment is a response to the government’s unprecedented decision on Tuesday to apply for a judicial review and injunction in an effort to block two pro-independence lawmakers from retaking their oaths in the Legislative Council on Wednesday. The government has been criticised for interfering in the internal affairs of the legislature and disregarding the principle of separation of powers.
Fung wrote in newspaper AM730 on Friday that Hong Kong’s political structure is not based on the principle of separation of powers. “It was not before the handover, and has never been after the handover,” Fung said.
Fung said that he was involved in the consultation process of the Basic Law when the territory’s mini-constitution was being drafted. “The [Basic Law] Drafting Committee members repeatedly stressed that Hong Kong SAR’s political system is designed to be ‘executive-led,’ not ‘separation of powers,’” he said.
Fung said China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping had told the Hong Kong members of the Drafting Committee in 1987 that Hong Kong’s system “could not be completely Westernised” such as by adopting the principle of separation of powers.
According to Fung, Deng said that Hong Kong’s system “had not followed the systems of the United Kingdom or the United States for a century and a half,” and it would be “inappropriate” to adopt the the Western system at the time.
“The Basic Law does not mention ‘separation of powers.’ Rather, the principle of a ‘executive-led’ system is very obvious,” said Fung.
He raised some examples from the Basic Law, including Article 43 that states that the head of Hong Kong is the chief executive, Article 48 that gives the chief executive the power to promulgate laws, and Article 74 that prohibits lawmakers from introducing bills relating to government policies without the chief executive’s written consent.
The official concluded that as there is no separation of powers in Hong Kong, the Department of Justice’s action against the legislature in accordance with the Legislative Council Ordinance is “legal and reasonable.”
Lawyer Kevin Yam of the Progressive Lawyers Group told HKFP earlier that although Hong Kong’s political structure may be described as “executive-led,” it does not mean that there is no separation of powers.
“The chief executive and the government are answerable to the Legislative Council, and the courts also keep the chief executive in check,” said Yam. “There are also court cases affirming the principle of separation of powers.”
Rita Fan, member of China’s top legislative body and former Legislative Council president, said on Thursday that Hong Kong does not have separation of powers. The government’s top advisor Shiu Shin-por also stated a similar position.
Lawyer Alan Wong of the Progressive Lawyers Group told HKFP earlier that Fan’s and Shiu’s comments were meant to justify the government’s decision against criticisms that it is using the court to interfere in the internal affairs of the legislature.
Wong added that to say that there is no separation of powers, one is effectively saying that the Hong Kong courts were wrong in past decisions made based on the principle of separation of powers.
In a speech in 2014, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said: “The Basic Law sets out clearly the principle of the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, and in quite specific terms, the different roles of the three institutions.”
The High Court held in a judicial review in 2007: “The Basic Law enshrines the separation of powers. A reading of the [Basic] Law makes it evident that the executive, the administration and the legislature are each to perform their constitutionally designated roles in a co-ordinated and co-operative manner for the good governance of Hong Kong.
”How is the government trying to prevent elected Youngspiration politicians from retaking their oaths as lawmakers?”
Text adapted from AFP: Hong Kong‘s leader sparked fury after he launched a court bid against two pro-independence lawmakers which could block them from taking up their parliamentary seats.
Hong Kong was handed back by Britain to China in 1997 under an agreement protecting its freedoms for 50 years, but there are concerns those liberties are being eroded. Rising tensions have sparked calls for Hong Kong to break completely from Beijing and a new wave of legislators who were voted in last month support independence and self-determination.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s late-night court bid on October 19 came after new pro-independence lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung draped themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” banners while taking their oath of office on October 12 in the Legislative Council (Legco) — Hong Kong‘s lawmaking body.
The oath specifies Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China.
The pair’s pledges were rejected after both refused to pronounce China properly. Yau was heard to replace the words “the People’s Republic of China” with “the People’s refucking of Zeena”.
Newly-elected Legco president Andrew Leung – a pro-Beijing lawmaker – had indicated he was prepared to give them a second chance and both were expected to take the oath again Wednesday morning.
But at the eleventh-hour the justice department, acting for the chief executive and the justice secretary, sought a review of that decision, arguing they should be disqualified based on their first oath.
The Legco president opposed the application.
In a hearing Tuesday night at the High Court, Baggio’s lawyer Hectar Pun said his client “does not accept that the chief executive has any standing to mount any legal proceedings”.
But department of justice counsel Johnny Mok said the lawmakers had brought the trouble upon themselves.
Judge Thomas Au refused to grant an application for an interim injunction against the oaths being retaken Wednesday.
But he agreed to allow the requested judicial review into the decision to give them a second chance, which will go ahead on November 3.
It is unclear how the judicial review will affect their future as lawmakers if they are successfully sworn in on Wednesday.
Baggio described the legal bid as a “political decision”, and accused the chief executive of ambush.
”What is a judicial review?”
Judicial review is a formal mechanism of evaluating the decision-making process of public bodies. It mainly reviews administrative decisions they make, and looks at whether a law or administrative decision is compatible with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
An example of judicial review of an administrative decision is Choi Hoi-dick v. Secretary for Home Affairs in 2007, when lawmaker Eddie Chu unsuccessfully challenged the legality of the government’s refusal to declare the Queen’s Pier a “monument.”
For a judicial review of the constitutionality of a law, an example would be Leung TC William Roy v. Secretary for Justice in 2006, in which the Court of Appeal held that the law prohibiting consensual male homosexual sex under age 21 was discriminatory based on sexual orientation and hence unconstitutional.
”What is the separation of powers?”
The executive is generally referred to as the “government,” which oversees the daily administration of the territory’s bureaucracy. The Legislative Council is the legislature or parliament of Hong Kong, while the judiciary includes all levels of courts.
However, the constitutional powers of the three branches in Hong Kong are not equal. For example, under Article 74 of the Basic Law, lawmakers can only introduce bills relating to government policies with the consent of the chief executive, and cannot introduce bills relating to public expenditure, political structure and the operation of the government. This limits the lawmaking power of the legislature.
That said, the judiciary is generally reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of the legislature. In Leung Kwok Hung v. President of the Legislative Council in 2007, lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung unsuccessfully challenged the rule that prevents legislators from amending bills that have an impact on public expenditure. Leung also raised the issue of whether the court has jurisdiction over the legislature.
In holding that the court does have jurisdiction over the legislature, the Court of First Instance gave a word of caution that such jurisdiction, “having regard to the sovereignty of LegCo under the Basic Law, should only be exercised in a restrictive manner.”
”Could Beijing interpret the Basic Law in the case of the Youngspiration politicians?”
Possibly. Whether the Court of First Instance rules in favour of the government or not, the parties can appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s top appellate court.
In the event that the Court of Final Appeal agrees to hear the appeal, the court may decide to refer the case to China’s top legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC). It has only done it once, in Democratic Republic of the Congo v. FG Hemisphere, a case in 2011 concerning the principles of state immunity.
Article 158 of the Basic Law confers the power of interpreting the territory’s mini-constitution on the NPCSC. In other words, the NPCSC’s interpretations of the Basic Law are final and legally enforceable.
Hong Kong’s judiciary has debated the scope of the NPCSC’s interpretative power. In Ng Ka Ling v. Director of Immigration in 1999, the Court of Final Appeal took a strong stance in defending judicial autonomy. But about a year later, in Lau Kong Yung v. Director of Immigration, the Court held that the NPCSC’s power is “plenary” in that it can interpret all of the provisions of the Basic Law at anytime.
”Is there any precedent for Beijing interpreting Hong Kong’s Basic Law?”
The NPCSC has interpreted the Basic Law on its own initiative once, in a case relating to the election method for choosing the chief executive in 2004.
In turn, the Hong Kong government has asked the NPCSC to interpret the Basic Law twice: first in Ng Ka Ling in 1999, when the government disagreed with the Court of Final Appeal’s decision entitling all Chinese citizens with Hong Kong parents to the right of abode. Secondly, in the case of former chief executive Donald Tsang, when he asked the NPCSC in 2005 to interpret the law related to the term of office of chief executives when replacing predecessors who vacated office before their terms expire.
Such interpretations are always controversial due to the public perception that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s judicial independence.
”What legal basis does the government have for this judicial review?”
The government has argued that the oaths of Youngspiration’s incoming lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang contravened Article 104 of the Basic Law, and the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance (Cap. 11).
Article 104 of the city’s mini-constitution stipulates: “When assuming office, the Chief Executive, principal officials, members of the Executive Council and of the Legislative Council, judges of the courts at all levels and other members of the judiciary in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must, in accordance with law, swear to uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.”
Section 21 of the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance lays down the consequence of non-compliance. It says: “Any person who declines or neglects to take an oath duly requested which he is required to take by this Part, shall – (a) if he has already entered on his office, vacate it; and (b) if he has not entered on his office, be disqualified from entering on it.”
”Are there past cases of lawmakers being allowed to retake their oaths?”
In 2012, former lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man replaced words such as “Republic” and “Special Administrative Region” with coughs in his first swearing-in attempt. Wong’s oath was only rejected after former Legislative Council president Jaspser Tsang was elected and revoked his oath.
In his second swearing-in, Wong read the full names of China and Hong Kong at an unusual pace, and shouted “Overthrow the Chinese Communist regime, down with CY Leung” immediately after his pledge.
Despite protests by pro-Beijing politicians, Tsang accepted Wong’s second oath.