Hong Kong’s justice secretary has said it is “impracticable and unreasonable” to expect the Beijing-imposed national security legislation to adhere to the city’s common law system, as guaranteed in its mini-constitution.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng’s comments on Sunday came days after the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society released statements expressing continued concern over the constitutional propriety of enacting the law, expected to be promulgated this year.

statue of justice court
Photo: Court of Final Appeal.

“It is impracticable and unreasonable to expect that everything in a national law, the National Security Law, will be exactly as what a statute in the HKSAR common law jurisdiction would be like. Yet of course, the legislation should be clear and understood in the HKSAR,” her blog post read.

Article 8 of the Basic Law states that Hong Kong’s common law tradition – carried over from British colonial rule – “shall be maintained” after the 1997 transfer of sovereignty to China.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament last month approved plans quash months of pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous city by introducing legislation criminalising subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism, without local legislative oversight.

Critics have sounded the alarm over its potential to silence political opponents and cripple the territory’s rule of law.

Cheng sought to assuage fears saying that the scope of the law may be limited to local matters: “Such legislation to be passed in the HKSAR will be dealing with national security from the perspective of the SAR and may well not be the complete ambit of national security that affects 1.4 billion people,” she wrote in reference to mainland China.

Teresa Cheng
Teresa Cheng.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung dismissed her statement as “legal hogwash,” saying it marked the end of the city’s constitutional tradition.

Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said at an event in Shenzhen on Monday that Chinese authorities ought to reserve the right to have jurisdiction in rare and serious cases involving national security in the city.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.