Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to answer a lawmaker’s question over whether she trusts the mainland legal system. The government’s amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law arrived at the legislature on Wednesday, as Lam faced a grilling from democrats.

Updates to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance are aimed at rolling out a case-by-case extradition mechanism with states where there are no pre-existing agreements – including mainland China.

At a regular Q&A on Wednesday, democrat Eddie Chu asked if Lam believed China’s judicial system to be problematic. He cited cases of Chinese activists being held for years before a closed-door trial: “Are you reassured that people can be sent [to China] for trial?” he said.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Lam said every jurisdiction has its own special features: “It is not appropriate for us officials to comment on other jurisdictions,” she said.

Chu said the law change will “break down the firewall between China and Hong Kong” and, under the proposal, the chief executive will be the person to decide whether to start the extradition process. Chu said Lam must answer whether she accepts the mainland legal system.

Lam said the government will act in accordance with laws passed by the Legislative Council, adding that Hong Kong has an independent judicial system.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo shouted “bullshit” at Lam, before Lam hit back and said it was not right to say Hong Kong does not have an independent judiciary.

Eddie Chu
Eddie Chu. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Nursing sector lawmaker Joseph Lee asked if Lam would promise she will not extradite people with business in the mainland to China for economic crimes.

Lam said it was not entirely up to her to make the extradition decision – rather, decisions will include recommendations from investigation units and the Department of Justice.

Theresa Cheng
Theresa Cheng. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Outside the chamber, Secretary for Justice Theresa Cheng said that – under the extradition law amendment – Hong Kong courts will have power, as a gatekeeper, to decide whether to extradite suspects.

She said the suspect will have the right to express their views in court.

“It is not the case that one person, or one institution, can complete the whole process,” she said.

When Secretary for Security John Lee made a speech during the second reading of the bill, pro-democracy lawmakers regularly stood up to raise point of order questions, in an effort to stall the process.

The government’s amendment will be discussed at a future bills committee.

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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.