27 October 2016
Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma (inset) has reiterated that judicial independence is enshrined in the Basic Law, and that no one is above the law. Photos: HKEJ, RTHK
Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma (inset) has reiterated that judicial independence is enshrined in the Basic Law, and that no one is above the law. Photos: HKEJ, RTHK

Equality before the law applies to everyone: Geoffrey Ma

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li emphasized on Wednesday that equality before the law applies to everyone without exception, as specified in the Basic Law.

While remarking that he will not comment on things which have been recently said or on the reaction to what he had said in the past, Ma however stressed that he wishes to emphasize two points.

The first is judicial independence, which is specified in the Basic Law in three separate places, including Articles 2, 19 and 85, he said.

The second point is Article 25 of the Basic Law which prescribes that everybody is equal before the law without exception, the top judge said, adding that the principle “applies to everyone”.

Hong Kong enjoys independent judicial power and the power of final adjudication, free of outside interference, Ma said.

He made the comments against the backdrop of a controversy over the status of Hong Kong’s chief executive, who has been sought to be put above all the branches of the government.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, said last weekend that Hong Kong’s leader has a constitutional status that transcends all three branches of government — executive, legislative and judiciary.

Separation of powers in Hong Kong is merely a reference, not a real political structure, because Hong Kong is not a sovereign state, Zhang said.

He used the words “superior” and “special power” to describe the status of the chief executive, but what was most alarming was the suggestion that the leader has overriding authority over the judiciary.

Ma once said in 2014 that the Basic Law clearly stipulates the principle of separation of the three powers-executive, legislature and judiciary — of the government, and the courts must exercise the judicial power to maintain rule of law.

But Rao Geping, a top law scholar in the mainland and member of the Basic Law Committee, said on Tuesday that it is not accurate to describe Hong Kong’s political system as separation of the three powers.

He added that not all Hong Kong judges have an accurate and full understanding of the Basic Law.

Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, meanwhile, did not directly respond to Ma’s comments on Wednesday.

But he sought to downplay the controversy over Leung’s status, pointing out that the chief executive has been under supervision of legislative and judiciary authorities.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Wednesday, before leaving for a trip to Jakarta, that his position is “indeed transcendent” as in the political system of Hong Kong, the central government would appoint the chief executive and the principal officials nominated by the chief executive.

Dennis Kwok, a lawmaker representing the legal sector, said he has written a letter to Yuen, asking him and Zhang to explain clearly whether or not Hong Kong adopts the system of separation of the three powers and whether it is complying with the Basic Law.

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