Hong Kong has dropped three places in a global rule of law index, with a senior advisor of the research organisation behind the list saying that the implementation of the national security law might have contributed to the city’s decline.

The index, complied by the World Justice Project (WJP), assesses the extent to which countries and territories adhere to the rule of law across eight categories: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights order and security, the enforcement of regulations, civil justice, and criminal justice.

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Rule of Law Index 2022. Photo: WJP.

For the 2022 index, WJP examined data from 140 countries and jurisdictions, including the results of questionnaires given to experts and the general public.

Hong Kong dropped three positions to rank at 22 this year. The city’s score decreased by 2.8 per cent from last year, which marked the second-largest drop in the Asia-Pacific region, after Myanmar.

The city’s scores fell the most in three areas: constraints on government powers, open government, and civil justice.

Speaking to the press about the 2022 index, senior advisor of WJP Ted Piccone related the decline to the Beijing-imposed national security law.

HKCTU
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was one of many civil society groups that disbanded in 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Since the law gives the executive significant power to prosecute peaceful protesters, opposition voices, and dissidents… it has limited people’s freedom of association, freedom of expression, and other fundamental rights,” Piccone said.

Piccone said that the security legislation also increased government powers and decreased judicial independence as the city’s leader could appoint judges to hear national security cases.

The national security law, enacted in June 2020, criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

National security law
A banner inside the Hong Kong government headquarters promoting the national security law. Photo: GovHK.

The city also has also seen an increasing use of the colonial-era sedition law since the promulgation of the security legislation. The sedition law, last amended in the 1970s, is separate from the national security law.

The colonial legislation outlaws treason, incitement to mutiny and disaffection, and other offences against the administration.

HKFP has reached out to the Chief Executive Office and the Judiciary for comment.

Global decline

The report also showed a decline of the rule of law in 61 per cent of the places surveyed this year, with some of the steepest downturns found in countries with weak rule of law, said Alicia Evangelides, co-director of the index.

“Authoritarian trends that predate the pandemic continue to erode the rule of law. Checks on executive power are weakening and respect for human rights is falling,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of WJP.

“We are emerging from the health crisis, but not the governance crisis,” Andersen said.

Rule of law in Hong Kong

Hong Kong officials repeatedly stress the city’s foundations in rule of law. During a television appearance on Sunday, Chief Executive John Lee made reference to a recent legal challenge launched against the government – and which the government lost – to illustrate the existence of rights in the city.

“We just had a case in which the government was sued and lost. Hong Kong has no human rights? That’s impossible!” Lee said.

On Tuesday, the government announced that rather than launch an appeal against the court’s decision, it would instead amend legislation to allow it to invalidate Covid-19 vaccine exemption certificated suspected of being issued without proper prior diagnosis – the matter that had been challenged in court.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.