The government has backtracked on its position that officials may not answer questions from four pro-democracy lawmakers they have brought legal action against.

During Monday’s session at the legislature, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah refused to respond to lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Edward Yiu Chung-yim and Lau Siu-lai, on the grounds that there are pending judicial review challenges from the government over their oath-taking ceremonies. The meeting was prematurely adjourned.

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam. File Photo: Chantal Yuen/HKFP.

But the government performed a u-turn after Starry Lee Wai-king and Dennis Kwok Wing-hang – chair and vice-chair of LegCo’s House Committee – met with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Monday afternoon.

See also: Video: Financial Sec. refuses to answer questions from 4 pro-democracy lawmakers facing legal action

Lee cited Lam as saying that officials will answer questions from all lawmakers in consideration of the public interest, the normal operation of the LegCo and that the legal position of the government has not changed.

Lam will write to LegCo president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen about the decision. Lee said Lam did not explain to her the reason behind the switch, but she welcomed the decision.

Kwok said the statuses of the four lawmakers must not be challenged before a court ruling is made. Each of the four staged protests during their October swearing-in session.

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung. File Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip.

Leung told reporters that he was “shocked” when asked about the government’s initial refusal, as he did not receive any notification from the government before it happened.

“Legally, unless these lawmakers are no longer lawmakers, the government should respect them and the Legislative Council,” he said, adding that he had called Lam.

“I do not know why government received such legal advice, but I hope the administration and the legislature maintain a good relationship,” he said. “Legal advice may not match with political [needs], and the relationship between the administration and the legislature. I am happy it was resolved.”

He said the switch in stance will make it possible to continue the smooth operations of the LegCo in the coming few weeks.

(L to R) Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law, Leung Kwok-hung, and Edward Yiu. Photo: HKFP.

A question posed by Edward Yiu was answered by Ada Fung Yin-suen, Deputy Director of the Hong Kong Housing Authority, at a LegCo panel meeting on Monday afternoon. Fung called Yiu a lawmaker, whilst John Tsang referred to the embattled lawmakers as “people” earlier that morning.

Before the government made the reversal, Kwok Cheuk-kin, a Cheung Chau resident nicknamed the “king of judicial review,” told HKFP that he would bring a legal challenge against Tsang over his refusal to answer questions.

He said that he will be submitting a judicial review request on Tuesday notwithstanding the government’s u-turn.

Meanwhile, Leung said the procedures demanding the Youngspiration duo pay back the wages and expenses given to them had begun. Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching were ousted from the legislature following a government legal challenge – each of them has to pay back around HK$930,000. It came after an announcement stating that their LegCo seats have been declared vacant was published in the gazette on Monday.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.