The pro-democracy leader of one of Hong Kong’s district councils has filed a legal challenge against a government official who walked out of a council meeting which was set to debate the actions of the local police.

The Democratic Party’s Lo Kin-hei filed a judicial review on Monday against the Home Affairs Department officer Priscilla Yip, who was appointed as secretary of the Southern District Council. Yip refused to perform her administrative duties – which included circulating papers and keeping minutes and an audio recording – at a meeting on July 2.

lo kin hei
Lo Kin-hei. Photo: Lo Kin-hei, via personal website.

According to Article 69 of the District Councils Ordinance, a district council may determine the duties of the public officer appointed as secretary.

District councils, the lowest tier of administration, have become a new battleground between pro-democracy politicians and the pro-Beijing government, especially after higher-level legislative council elections scheduled for this month were postponed for a year.

In a landslide victory following months of protests, the pro-democracy camp last November secured control of 17 of the 18 district councils – a total of 385 out of 452 seats. Since then, there have been frequent walkouts by government administrative staff who say councillors are overstepping their functions by trying to discuss political matters.

Judicial reviews are considered by the Court of First Instance. Issues under consideration must be shown to affect the wider public interest.

‘Incompatible’ agenda item

The case brought by Lo concerns a move by Tiffany Yuen – district councillor for the Tin Wan constituency – who had asked Southern Division police to provide information on cases involving mentally incapacitated persons which they had handled. Lo in his capacity as council chair approved the agenda item but all government officials including the council secretary walked out of the meeting.

The government district officer Francis Cheng said the item was incompatible with the district council’s functions, InMedia reported.

Last Thursday, the Southern District Council approved an impromptu motion to file the legal challenge.

In response to Ming Pao‘s enquiry about the case, the Home Affairs Department declined to comment on the matter in view of ongoing legal proceedings.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.