Pan-democrats on Thursday failed in their bid to summon Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng to the Legislative Council to answer questions on illegal structures found at her home.

Following an inspection last month, the Buildings Department confirmed that there were nine illegal structures at Cheng and her husband’s properties at Villa De Mer in Tuen Mun.

Teresa Cheng. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Under Article 73 of the Basic Law, lawmakers are allowed to raise questions about the government’s work and summon officials. Lawmaker Charles Mok’s motion requested that Cheng answer questions relating to the structures and hand over materials relevant to the property, her husband’s business relationships with the government, and details of her pre-appointment integrity check.

The motion was accepted by Legislative Council President Andrew Leung last month.

Mok on Thursday afternoon accused the pro-Beijing camp of filibustering on a bill banning shopkeepers from selling alcohol to minors in order to prevent democrats from discussing his motion. The bill was eventually passed.

‘Room for improvement’

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told the legislature on Friday that the government understands the public’s expectations towards politically appointed officials, but said he hoped that everyone could evaluate Cheng’s performance based on her work.

Cheung said that the government understands “there is room for improvement” with regards to how Cheng handled the matter, but said that she has already reported the matter to the chief executive and made authorisation arrangements – meaning that she is no longer in charge of the prosecution decision in this case. “There is no evidence to show that the incident had any conflict with her duties.”

Cheung said the Buildings Department will act in accordance with the law and treat everyone equally, adding that Cheng has “fully cooperated” with the department’s work to make amendments.

Matthew Cheung. Photo: In-Media.

“We believe there is no actual need to summon the secretary for justice to the meeting on February 28 to answer questions on whether it is still appropriate for her to assume [her role]. As a representative of the Hong Kong government, we ask that the lawmakers oppose this motion.”

Mok said that at the legislature’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services meeting, Cheng refused to answer any questions as to whether she declared her illegal structures during her integrity checks, whether she knew of the illegal structures from her mortgage documents, or when she first learned that there were illegal structures at her Tuen Mun house.

“There is a need for this motion we’ve put forward to summon [her] to pass so that she can answer these questions,” Mok said.

Charles Mok. Photo: In-Media.

However, after a large number of pro-establishment lawmakers requested to speak on the motion, the meeting was adjourned ahead of its scheduled end time at 8pm, as the debate would not be completed by then.

As the motion was not dealt with by Thursday, it is no longer effective, as the deadline stipulated in the motion for Cheng to be summoned is February 28, and Thursday’s meeting is the last before the Lunar New Year break. On February 28, the legislature will discuss the Financial Secretary’s budget speech.

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.