Such requests should be made whenever government does not ‘understand accurately or clearly’ aspects of national security law, says Horace Cheung.
Asking the central government to interpret Hong Kong’s national security law is “the healthiest way” for the legal system to develop, the city’s deputy justice minister has said, although the sole local delegate to the country’s highest legislative body has cautioned it remains unclear whether a requested ruling can be expected this month.
Deputy Secretary for Justice Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan on Saturday said such requests should be made whenever the government did not “understand accurately or clearly” aspects of the national security law.
“As long as the system is clear and everyone follows the system to handle everything, I think this is the healthiest way for the legal system to develop,” he said.
Deputy Secretary for Justice Horace Cheung.
Cheung added the government was still waiting for further instruction from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on the arrangement for any possible interpretation of the security law.
City leader John Lee Ka-chiu asked the standing committee to intervene after media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying moved to hire British King’s Counsel Timothy Owen to defend him against charges of collusion with foreign forces.
The Department of Justice repeatedly asked the courts to deny the arrangement, on a range of grounds including the risk that a foreign national could learn state secrets during the trial, but the top court ruled Lai was entitled to his choice of counsel.
Lee’s request to the standing committee was backed by Beijing’s officials overseeing the city’s affairs, who said the court’s decision had violated “the legislative spirit and legal logic” of the national security law.
The law, written by Beijing and imposed on Hong Kong in 2020, targets crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The drafters gave the standing committee the right to interpret the law, although that power has not yet been exercised.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday evening that the next meeting of the apex legislative body would be held from December 27 to 30 in Beijing, but the agenda did not include mention of the security law.
Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to the standing committee, said he was unsure whether the topic of the interpretation would be added to the schedule.
It was difficult to predict whether four days would be enough time to resolve the matter, he added.
Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
The standing committee has interpreted the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, on five occasions in the 25 years since the city’s handover to Chinese rule.
The most recent case was in 2016, after newly elected lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching criticised China during oath-taking for the legislative council. The standing committee later declared that lawmakers who failed to take their oath sincerely and properly could be disqualified immediately.
Lai was on Saturday jailed for 69 months and fined HK$2 million (US$256,850) for breaching land lease terms relating to the headquarters of his now-defunct Apple Daily tabloid-style newspaper.