Hong Kong’s two bodies representing the legal profession have voiced serious concern about the government’s decision to oust four opposition lawmakers, with one of them saying the move violates the rule of law in the city.

“It is a basic tenet of the Rule of Law that no person shall be deprived of their rights without due process… the entirety of the Government’s approach… violates the basic principles of fairness and due process inherent in the Rule of Law,” said a statement from the Bar Association on Thursday.

Legislative Council. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The professional body for the city’s barristers criticised the lack of a legal basis for the government’s decision, saying that it “introduces an entirely different way to disqualify a legislator without due process” as provided under the Basic Law, the post-handover constitution for Hong Kong.

Article 79 of the law details the legal circumstances under which a legislator may be disqualified from office.

Opposition lawmakers Kenneth Leung, Kwok-Ka-ki, Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung were disqualified as legislators with immediate effect by the Hong Kong government on Wednesday. China’s top legislative body meeting in Beijing had shortly beforehand granted the government the power to unseat any legislator it deems to have violated their oaths of allegiance under Article 104 of the Basic Law.

Announcing the government’s disqualification, Chief Executive Carrie Lam referred to the decision by returning officers in July to disqualify them from standing in Legislative Council elections scheduled for September. The polls were later postponed for one year and the term of the existing legislature was extended.

The Bar Association commented on the irregularity of the government seeking to apply Beijing’s decision “retroactively…on the decisions of the relevant returning officers who… were not even required to deal with questions relating to the present extended term of LegCo.”

“Legal certainty has been greatly impaired,” its statement read.

‘Top priority’

The concerns over the legal basis for the disqualification were echoed by the Law Society, the professional body for solicitors, which called on the the government to address the concerns as “matters of top priority” in a statement on Friday.

“To ensure due process, transparency and accountability in all its actions, the HKSAR
Government is duty bound to address clearly those concerns, in particular the legal basis
on which the disqualification was effected… as well as the legality and propriety of the new protocol,” it read.

Democrats disqualify Legislative Council
Kwok Ka-ki, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung are unseated from the legislature on November 11, 2020. Photo: Dennis Kwok, via Facebook.

“”The Rule of Law is one of the greatest strengths of Hong Kong. Everyone must ensure that it is not compromised or perceived to have been compromised in any way,” the statement added.

Beijing’s decision on Wednesday has drawn fierce criticism from foreign governments, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing it of “crushing democracy in Hong Kong.” British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has accused China of breaching its international obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration governing the territory’s handover.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.