The government said on Thursday that it will appeal a court ruling over the restrictions it imposed for the forecourt of the Central Government Offices – commonly known as “Civic Square” in Admiralty.

The government last month lost a legal challenge over the policy of limiting public events at the square to 10am to 6:30pm on Sundays and public holidays only. Mr Justice Thomas Au ruled that the policy was unconstitutional as it failed the “proportionality” requirement, and in addition, contained an error of law.

Civic Square
Civic Square. File Photo: Citizen News.

The government’s Administration Wing, which manages the area, said in a reply to lawmakers that it wished the court to clarify the ruling as it “involved some important legal principles which have far-reaching impact on the property management work on government premises”.

The latest development contradicted Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s remarks last month – made after the judgment – that the government respected the judgment and would take time to carefully study it. It would also investigate whether the guidelines for the square could be relaxed.

Civic Square was a popular site for protests after the government opened its Admiralty offices in 2011. But the government added metal fencing around the area in September 2014, and later barred the public from entering it altogether.

The square was the scene of a major stand-off between the police and pro-democracy protesters on September 26, 2014, when protesters attempted to climb into the square. The protest subsequently turned into the Occupy movement when police shot tear gas canisters at protesters outside the square supporting those inside. The square was partially reopened to the public last December.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin, also vice-convener of the Civil Human Rights Front which often organises protests at the square, said the government should not have asked for the appeal, if it truly wished to resolve the controversy surrounding the square.

“The government is trying to make the Civic Square into a square that citizens cannot be in,” he said on Thursday. “The government’s appeal is a waste of time and public funds.”

Au Nok-hin
Au Nok-hin. Photo:

When the legal challenge was heard in the Court of First Instance, the government had argued that the policy was necessary because public events at Civic Square on weekdays and Saturdays would disrupt government operations.

The government further argued that the Civic Square was not a public space, and the government as a landowner had a right to exclude the public from it.

But Judge Thomas Au rejected both arguments, saying that the government cannot issue a “blanket refusal” on using the square on weekdays and Saturdays, regardless of the scale and nature of potential events. He said it must justify restrictions on freedoms according to the specifics of each case.

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.