This is yet another blow to our rule of law.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) on Monday said it would suspend enforcing four ordinances in 450 public venues across the city, with immediate effect.
These include the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance, the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Ordinance, the Pleasure Grounds Regulation, and the Bathing Beaches Regulation.
This means that the government will not press charges against anyone who violates these laws in the specified 450 locations.
Why? Because the LCSD said it failed to file the layout plans for these facilities with the Land Registry as required under Schedule 4 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, a blunder that came to light only now.
The venues that have slipped through the LCSD’s net include the Quarry Bay Park, the Fuk Man Garden in Sai Kung and the Lai Chi Kok Park.
Technically speaking, this is a low-level mistake.
Smoking offenses, as well as unauthorized hawking and performing in public areas, probably do not constitute a felony. Nor will there be a profound impact on law and order if the authorities do not prosecute the people who commit these misdemeanors.
However, from a rule-of-law perspective, this is a serious matter of fundamental principles: the authorities have lost jurisdiction over these public venues because of a legal gaffe made by our officials.
And if there are other bureaucratic branches like the LCSD, the entire SAR government, which is already much criticized, would only be perceived by the public as being unable to uphold justice and press charges against wrongdoers.
That the LCSD has suspended enforcing the law in 450 venues under its jurisdiction is not an act of “leniency”, but rather, the result of legal loopholes made by the government itself.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 12
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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