Chief Executive Carrie Lam has urged Hong Kong lawmakers to pass an update to the city’s extradition laws before July – a move that is expected to see resistance from democrats at the legislature on Wednesday.

Lam told reporters on Tuesday that the amendment was a “race against time” because the government hoped to use the law to extradite Chan Tong-kai, a man suspected of murder in Taiwan.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Screenshot.

“We may see a very undesirable situation, whereby a suspected fugitive could be set free by Hong Kong courts, and [the government] would not have any legal basis to transfer him. That is something we don’t want to see, so I hope the Legislative Council can seize every second to pass the bill,” Lam said.

In February, the government proposed an amendment to Hong Kong’s extradition laws to allow for case-by-case transfers to jurisdictions without prior agreement.

The move was prompted by the case of Chan Tong-kai, who allegedly killed his 20-year-old Hong Kong girlfriend during a 2018 trip to Taiwan. Hong Kong authorities arrested Chan but were unable to charge him with murder in local courts.

Last week, he pleaded guilty to four charges of money-laundering in relation to money and valuables he took from his deceased girlfriend. He is due to be sentenced on April 29, but since Chan already served time before trial, he could walk free within weeks, if not days.

Victim Poon Hiu-wing (left) and suspect Chan Tong-kai (blurred).

“This ‘deadline’ is not July, rather I hope it is earlier than July,” Lam said at a Tuesday press briefing. “The case had already been taken to court, and is due for sentencing later, therefore [Chan’s release] may be earlier than July.”

“Since we have already introduced the legislation to provide that legal basis, the question now is not entirely for us. It’s for the Legislative Council to also display that same sort of compassion and empathy and try to speed up the legislative exercise to give us that legal basis to proceed.”

However, Lam said that the government would proceed with the law even if it missed the July deadline, as the systemic “inadequacy” would still need to be addressed.

Possible delay tactics 

The bill to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance was introduced to the legislature earlier this month, but specifics will be discussed at a dedicated bills committee.

Ahead of the committee’s first meeting on Wednesday, Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said he was undecided over whether he would set a limit to the bill’s discussion time.

Andrew Leung. Photo: LegCo.

Last year, Leung capped the discussion time for the controversial joint checkpoint plan for the high-speed rail to just 36 hours.

The committee is expected to be chaired by lawmaker Paul Tse, who reportedly has the backing of the numerically superior pro-Beijing camp.

Asked about whether he expected democrats to use delaying tactics, Tse said he “would be surprised if they did not.”

“I may take the rules a bit more strictly,” he said, but noted that he wanted to give an opportunity for lawmakers to speak freely. He said it would be challenging to meet the July deadline, but there is a chance to make it in time if people show up for meetings and not ask repetitive questions.

Paul Tse. Photo: LegCo.

In a joint statement, 24 pro-democracy lawmakers said that there is “great controversy” over the extradition law amendment.

“[We] expect there will be vigourous debate in the bills committee, and it will be impossible to conclude the vetting in a short time,” they said.

The preferred way to deal with the Taiwan murder case was as one-time extradition arrangement with Taiwan, they said, and they will push to debate the option in the legislature.

Beijing claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.