Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng has refused to attend a Legislative Council panel meeting next Monday to explain the illegal structures found at her residence, citing the need for more time to make preparations for upcoming work.

The Legislative Council president then accepted a motion to summon Cheng to the legislature before February 28, although a majority is needed from both the functional and geographical constituencies for it to pass. It will likely be rejected by the pro-Beijing camp, who hold a majority.

Following an inspection, the Buildings Department confirmed that there were nine illegal structures at Cheng and her husband’s properties at Villa De Mer in Tuen Mun, including rooms on the roof, extensions on the ground floor, basements, canopies, and a swimming pool. Cheng – who has degrees in engineering and law, sat on a Buildings Ordinance tribunal and co-wrote a book on construction law – has claimed she was “very busy” when the house was purchased.

The episode sparked a backlash among the pro-democracy camp and even from some pro-establishment lawmakers. However, Cheng has said that she will not resign, and that she has passion for the job.

The pro-democracy camp earlier wrote to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services, asking for Cheng to attend a panel meeting next Monday to explain the matter. Chairperson of the panel Priscilla Leung said on Thursday that Cheng had refused to attend, but is set to attend a meeting on February 26.

Leung said that Cheng should explain the incident as soon as possible so as not to affect the progress of other bills, such as the national anthem law, and the work concerning the joint checkpoint arrangement for the Express Rail Link.

Cheng summoned 

On Friday afternoon, Legislative Council President Andrew Leung accepted a motion put forward by lawmaker Charles Mok to summon Cheng to the legislature under Article 73 of the Basic Law, which allows lawmakers to raise questions about the government’s work and summon officials. It will be dealt with at a meeting on January 31.

The motion requests that Cheng answer questions relating to illegal structures and hand over materials relevant to the property, her husband’s business relations with the government, and those involved in her pre-appointment integrity check.

Charles Mok. Photo: In-Media.

Mok said it would not be efficient to question Cheng during a scheduled appearance at the legislature: “The format and the duration will not grant us sufficient information and background so as to enable us to understand the matter.”

Mok also said that – even though some time has passed since the incident – Cheng has not given detailed response, nor did she offer updates on her declaration of interests.

“We believe that the government’s goal is to downplay the incident and delay it so that, when other issues come up, the public will forget,” he said, adding that Cheng should come forward as soon as possible.

Mok said the deadline stipulated in the motion is the end of next month.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.