‘Remain vigilant’ says PLG report on Hong Kong rule of law

The Progressive Lawyers Group of Hong Kong, in its inaugural report, elaborates on the implementation of the rule of law in the city and warns of Beijing’s encroachment on the interpretation of the Basic Law.

Comprehensive, finds confusion

The over 300-page bilingual report looks at the major events affecting Hong Kong’s rule of law in courts and the legal profession, the police and prisons, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, business, media, academia, individual rights, and some specific issues that do not fall into any of the other categories. It also contains 60 recommendations from the PLG to the Hong Kong government, the business sector, civil society and the general public.

The report points out a misunderstanding and misinterpretation in the Hong Kong community in recent years of the concept of rule of law. That is, confusing it with the shortened Chinese phrase “rule by law” has led the general public to believe that abiding by the law is equivalent to “rule of law”.

“We believe it is absolutely necessary to clarify such misconception and publish a rule of law report, not only to closely monitor the proper implementation of the rule of law in Hong Kong but also to get the correct concept of it across to the general public,” the PLG says in the report.

“The purpose of the report is to remind the general public that we need to remember the very essence of the law is to protect the general public,” Mr. Billy Li On-yin, convenor of the PLG, tells Harbour Times. “Law should be more than just words and needs to have more connotations that look beyond the literal meaning of the text in the law book.”

Four specific cases

The report also highlights four specific issues, namely the disqualification of candidates in the 2018 by-elections and the 2019 Rural Ordinary Election, Hong Kong independence activism, the amendments to the Rules of Procedure in the Legislative Council, and the co-location arrangement of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

In its recommendations, the PLG calls upon “everyone in Hong Kong” to “remain vigilant against any attempt by the Hong Kong SAR Government to deprive the fundamental rights of any resident and should actively defend their voting rights by exercising them in elections”. It suggests the Hong Kong government “refrain from intimidating students, academia and the general public from engaging in discussions of Hong Kong independence”, and “refrain from seeking interpretation of the relevant Basic Law provision(s) from the NPCSC”. The NPCSC, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, is China’s top legislative body.

“There are many incidents in recent years that showed the changes in the ‘law environment’ in Hong Kong,” says Mr. Li. “In the report, we listed such incidents (and) we hope the public can see whether the law environment in the city is getting better or worse.”

More specifically, Mr. Li says that the Chinese mainland has had an overwhelming impact on Hong Kong’s rule of law.

“The impact on Hong Kong law from Beijing in recent years is ‘direct’ and ‘significant’ to the point that the interpretation of the Basic Law has changed,” he adds. “If we allow this trend to continue happening, Hong Kong, especially its financial aspects, will suffer.”

The PLG was established in January 2015, after the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Comprised of Hong Kong legal professionals as well as members from academia, the group has been at the forefront of the democratic movement in Hong Kong.