A survey by local think tank The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre found that only 35 percent of the Hong Kongers are satisfied with the general situation of the city’s rule of law, down 1.6 percentage point compared to last year.
The survey found that those who were aged 55 or above, were born in mainland China, working or in some other non-working status (such as homemakers or retirees) or those supporting the pro-establishment camp were those that tend to be more satisfied.
Researchers spoke to around 2,000 Hong Kong residents aged 15 or above in two rounds of surveying conducted in 2017 and 2018.
The survey listed 10 aspects as indicators to evaluate the implementation of Hong Kong’s rule of law, covering the maintenance of law and order, basic rights and government administration.
Aspects relating to socio-economic factors scored the highest, such as ‘maintenance of law and order and safety’, ‘anti-corruption’ and ‘facilitation of economic development by the legal system’, received a score above 6 out of 10.
On the other hand, the respondents felt the least satisfied when it comes to politics and government administration.
Aspects such as ‘Hong Kong judicial issues were to be handled and resolved on its own’, ‘government openness’ and ‘prevention of the abuse of power by the government’ only received below 5.5 out of 10.
Mr Lau Ming-wai, vice chairman of the think tank, stresses that the rule of law is the core value of Hong Kong society.
“However, there is a growing public concern over the rule of law in Hong Kong due to recent controversial cases,” he adds.
Mr Lau cites the continuous political storms in the city.
Guardian of the law part of the problem
The latest controversy involved Hong Kong’s justice chief Ms Teresa Cheng, whose department decided last month to drop investigations into a $50 million payment to former chief executive Mr CY Leung.
Mr Leung received part of the payment from Australian firm UGL after he became the city’s head in 2012, but he failed to disclose the deal.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) came under fire for not seeking an outside legal opinion before reaching this decision.
Ms Cheng said it was unnecessary unless the case involved a member of the DoJ, but top legal bodies in Hong Kong refuted that it is common practice when there are concerns regarding potential conflict of interest.
In the past, the DoJ had sought outside legal opinion for cases involving former financial secretary Mr Antony Leung and former chief executive Mr Donald Tsang.
Local media pointed to Mr Leung’s political ties, as he is currently the vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
It’s not just one little thing
When asked if this particular case has affected how Hong Kongers perceived the city’s rule of law, Mr Lau only says one individual case is not substantial enough to judge the whole picture.
“The recent controversies are related to politics. Some people try to politicise legal issues to undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law,” he says.
Last year saw a range of scandals that impact on the perception of the status of the rule of law in Hong Kong. The government used the Societies Ordinance to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party on the grounds of national security. The election commission screened out pro-democracy candidates based on their assumed support for greater autonomy or independence, which it says violates the Basic Law. The Secretary for Justice has been mired in controversy when, within hours of being sworn in, it emerged she had a secret husband and a residence loaded with illegal structures – her speciality in law.
“Hong Kongers are disappointed to see the government using flimsy arguments to handle the recent controversies. It makes many question if Hong Kong’s rule of law is undermined by Beijing,” says Mr Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of Department of Applied Social Sciences at PolyU.
Last week, advisory firm the Economist Intelligence Unit lowered Hong Kong’s ranking in its Democracy Index 2018, citing these controversies.