Pro-democracy lawmakers have demanded Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung step down for failing to protect Hong Kong’s judicial system from interference by Beijing over the recent oath controversy.

Lawmakers fired questions at Yuen concerning the legal implications of Beijing’s rare interpretation on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution during Wednesday’s session at the Legislative Council. The justice secretary responded that the government is still studying the effect of the interpretation.

Rimsky Yuen
Rimsky Yuen. Photo: Chantal Yuen/HKFP.

Yuen did not rule out the possibility of the government amending existing legislations in light of the interpretation.

Barrister Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu of the Civic Party asked Yuen if he thinks that the interpretation has serious implications since it has effectively amended local laws.

Yuen responded with the drafting history of Article 104, the provision that was given interpretation by Beijing. He concluded that the interpretation only restated the spirit of the impugned provision, and therefore did not amount to an amendment to local laws.

Yeung criticised the justice secretary for avoiding his question, as well as backtracking on his position that the oath-taking quarrel can be adequately resolved within Hong Kong’s legal system.

Alvin Yeung
Alvin Yeung. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

“We trusted you because you have a legal background,” Yeung said. “I wonder if you have been able to sleep at night since the interpretation was issued?”

“I hope you will consider resigning. This is the only way to live up to your legal profession,” he said.

The Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting asked Yuen if he had notified Beijing of his intention to resign. Without answering Lam directly, Yuen said the administration has expressed its views to the central government.

Yuen said that a Basic Law interpretation by Beijing is always controversial, and that it is not unusual for Monday’s ruling to stir up debate.

“The interpretation has been issued. You will have to look at it in a positive and sensible manner. It is understandable that we have diverse opinions and the interpretation has caused controversy,” he said.

Johannes Chan
Johannes Chan. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Last week, HKU law professor Johannes Chan also said Yuen should resign.

“Yuen has the duty to defend Hong Kong’s judicial system, especially since he himself filed the judicial review,” Chan said, adding that the move showed the government’s level of confidence in the court’s role as a mediator.

“An interpretation… would put Yuen in a very difficult position. In that case, I think Yuen should resign,” he said.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho said after the meeting that Yuen should stay on, despite calls for his resignation by the pro-democracy camp.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.