Last weekend, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, the former secretary for justice and now deputy director of the Basic Law Committee of the National People’s Congress, spoke on the rule of law at a seminar.
During the seminar, she said the notion that you can break the law as long as you are fighting for a just cause is a complete violation of the essence of the rule of law.
Such a notion, Leung said, would have negative and far-reaching implications for our young people.
She stressed that the central idea of the rule of law is about abiding by the law, both the government and citizens alike, and expressing your views peacefully and respectfully.
Leung may have sounded logical, but I believe her definition of the rule of law is insufficient, and she might have confused the rule of law with rule by law.
It is because the true, authentic rule of law is a lot more than just abiding by the law; it is also about judicial independence, all men being equal before the law, protecting basic human rights and upholding procedural justice as well as due process.
Sadly, based on some recent events, I believe it is our government itself that has violated the rule of law in the first place.
Our chief justice and his predecessor have reiterated on different occasions that all applications for judicial review in Hong Kong are subject to the strictest scrutiny by the court, and no application will be granted unless the applicants have submitted substantial evidence that the court believes can allow a valid review to take place.
However, despite our chief justice’s formal statements, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has continued throughout his term in office to openly criticize our judicial review mechanism for having been abused, saying that some members of the public are using this mechanism out of political motivation to stall major government infrastructural projects.
And some pro-Beijing people even accused our judges of being far too lenient on pro-democracy protesters who were arrested and brought to trial.
Don’t such allegations already constitute a violation of judicial independence, one of the core elements of the rule of law?
On the other hand, while the Department of Justice unprecedentedly pressed charges against 43 protesters for rioting during the Mong Kok clashes in February, the authorities suddenly dropped the charges against 10 of them last week, saying there was no substantial evidence proving they had participated in the riot.
The sloppiness and negligence of the DOJ in this case is absolutely astounding, because that means it hastily pressed charges against a quarter of the suspects in the absence of substantial evidence.
Isn’t that a violation of procedural justice?
Then came the recent saga in which Leung Chung-yan was allowed to have one of her bags bypass the standard security check procedure at the airport at the request of her father, Leung Chun-ying.
Suffice to say it is another blow to our rule of law, which is already on the line.
The average citizen neither has the power nor the position to undermine our rule of law, but our chief executive, the DOJ and the police who are entrusted with enormous public power have.
How could anyone blame our young people for not respecting the rule of law if the people in power are doing exactly what they are accusing them of doing?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 13.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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