The High Court has decided to hear five legal challenges against the controversial joint checkpoint plan for the upcoming Express Rail Link altogether. The two-day hearing will begin on October 30, weeks after the rail link is set to begin operations.
The five applications all claimed the plan for the West Kowloon station was unconstitutional on different grounds. The government had asked the court on Monday to hear the case filed by activist Hendrick Lui first, and handle the four other cases later. They said that Lui’s case had raised all arguments included in other cases.
But Mr Justice Anderson Chow rejected the application, saying that other applicants can choose to raise their arguments in a manner they consider to be most appropriate.
However, Chow allowed the government to submit a report from a mainland legal expert to the court. Chow also asked both sides to file and exchange expert reports on the nature and legal effect the decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress last year, which approved the implementation of the joint checkpoint plan.
Under the proposal passed by the legislature last month, Hong Kong will effectively give up its jurisdiction across a quarter of the new West Kowloon terminus, where immigration and customs procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents. The arrangement was intended for faster clearance so that passengers would not have to leave the train at the border.
At the legislature on Tuesday, Secretary for Security John Lee told reporters that the government would deal with the court cases in accordance with the law: “Our plan will proceed to start the operation of the express railway in September. We have strong confidence in the legal basis of this co-location arrangement. We of course respect people’s rights in lodging judicial review.”
Tian Feilong, a mainland legal scholar and a member of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, had previously said Hong Kong courts had no right to review the decision made by China’s top legislature, which is part of the law.
He said if Hong Kong courts hear the judicial reviews and made unconstitutional decisions – outside of their power – the Standing Committee had the responsibility to take action, such as issuing an interpretation of the Basic Law to clarify the matter.
Disqualified lawmaker Baggio Leung, one of the five applicants, posted the court’s decision to hear the cases on Tuesday on social media and said: “I am one big step closer to being subjected to another interpretation.”
In 2016, the Standing Committee issued an interpretation which deemed that lawmakers must take their oaths of office solemnly and accurately. Leung was disqualified by the court following the interpretation.