19 March 2019
Paul Shieh speaks at the opening of the new legal year. 
Photo: HKEJ
Paul Shieh speaks at the opening of the new legal year. Photo: HKEJ

Bar chief: Govt use of ‘according to law’ misleads public

The outgoing chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association has criticized the government for continually stressing it has been acting “according to the law”, Ming Pao Daily reported Tuesday.

Paul Shieh said that is not only improper and derogatory toward the law but also tends to lead the public to misunderstand the true meaning of the rule of law. 

Shieh said the government has been justifying all its actions by saying they were done according to the law, but the spirit of the rule of law lies not only in doing things according to the law but also in respecting independent judicial institutions and ensuring the protections provided under legal rules.

“There is no universal definition of the rule of law. Many countries claim to practice the rule of law, but in fact what they practice is not the rule of law as we understand the concept,” Shieh said in a speech at the ceremonial opening on Monday of Legal Year 2015.

“China does not practice the type of rule of law as we understand it to mean.”

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said late last year Hong Kong is a society ruled by law and that political reform should not deviate from the Basic Law and Beijing’s decisions.

And Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said last year that while the right of citizens to express their opinions should be respected, a responsible government should also stick to the law in conducting political reform.

Overstating the importance of obeying the law is often done by a regime that is keen on using the law as a tool to constrain the governed, rather than a means to constrain the way it governs, Shieh said in his speech.

He said the government’s repeated insistence that it was doing things according to the law creates the misconception that many phenomena in society are inevitable consequences of adhering to the law, when plainly they are not.

“The law has become the scapegoat or excuse,” Shieh said.

He said public or media comments on certain government policies or actions call for political responses or justifications — “no one is complaining about legality of conduct”.

The government’s repetition of “according to the law” demeans the law and deflects attention from the real issues, Shieh said.

He said he hoped one day the universal values of fairness and justice and the concept of rule of law in Hong Kong will be pervasive in the mainland.

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