Hong Kong lawyers have hit back at Chief Executive Carrie Lam over her dismissal of criticism against the controversial Express Rail joint checkpoint plan.

The mechanism has been heavily criticised by the city’s legal professionals for violating the Basic Law. The Bar Association said in a strongly-worded statement last Thursday that Beijing’s decision to push the plan through has “irreparably breached” the mini-constitution.

joint checkpoint co-location
Hong Kong’s senior officials answered the media’s questions on the joint checkpoint plan on December 27, 2017. Photo: HKGov.

Under the arrangement, Hong Kong will effectively surrender its jurisdiction across a quarter of the new Express Rail terminus, where immigration procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents when it opens this year.

In response to criticism, Lam said Sunday that “some Hong Kong legal professionals have an elitist mentality or double standards, that is, they think that Hong Kong’s legal system is supreme, and that the mainland legal system – a big country with a 1.3 billion population – is wrong.”

“Their mindset is not conducive to maintaining our high degree of autonomy under the One Country, Two Systems policy, nor does it align with the premise that one must agree with ‘One Country’ in order to allow the ‘Two Systems’ to function.”


Lam’s remarks have led to further criticism from the legal profession. “The truth hurts,” the Bar Association Chair Paul Lam told Ming Pao on Tuesday, referring to the chief executive’s reaction.

“We hope that she will convince us with the spirit and elements of the rule of law,” he said.

He also rejected Carrie Lam’s labelling lawyers as having an “elitist mentality,” saying that the role of lawyers is to be rational, fair and humble, and that the Bar aims to promote rational discussions.

Human rights lawyer Philip Dykes said Lam’s comments were “disappointing,” saying that it is inappropriate to attack individuals instead of focusing on the legal issue in question, HK01 reported.

Paul Lam Philip Dykes Bar Council Bar Association
Paul Lam (L) and Philip Dykes (R). Photo: Citizen News/HKFP.

Senior Counsel and ex-lawmaker Audrey Eu described Lam’s comment as “shocking,” and failing to differentiate between professional opinions and elitist mentality. “Lam doesn’t even know where to buy toilet paper – if anyone is an ‘elite,’ it must be her,” Eu said.

‘Rule without law’

University of Hong Kong law professor Johannes Chan said the government shows a “weak understanding of the concept of the rule of law” when it said that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) is the highest authority and thus its decisions cannot be challenged.

“This is not even rule by law anymore. It is rule without law,” he said.

Chan said no authorities can have absolute power, including China’s top legislature: “The NPC passes laws [in the SAR] in accordance with Article 31 of the Chinese constitution, so it is also bound by the constitution.”

“I understand that the Hong Kong government has spent a lot of money on the rail and wants to push through the plan… but could they use a more objective and open-minded approach in exploring alternative solutions to achieve what they want?” the law professor said.

“If you adopt the Chinese understanding of law in our legal system, this is the end of the One Country, Two Systems policy. There would be nothing left.”

Meanwhile, former Bar chair Martin Lee said Lam did not understand the background of the One Country, Two Systems policy.

Lee, who participated in the drafting of the Basic Law, said no drafters of the document – including Chinese personnel – intended to design the mini-constitution in a way that would allow parts of Hong Kong to cease to be under the city’s own jurisdiction.

He said the Basic Law, as well as the promise that existing laws will continue to apply, is one of China’s fundamental policies towards Hong Kong. “It is not something to be messed with,” Lee warned.

pro democracy rally Jan 1
Banner agains the joint checkpoint plan at the Jan 1 rally. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

See also: Thousands of Hongkongers march against ‘political suppression’ and China’s joint rail checkpoint plan

The checkpoint arrangement has led to a public outcry over the perceived attack on Hong Kong’s legal system. On New Year Day, thousands took to the streets demanding the government halt the plan and uphold the rule of law.

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