27 January 2020
Activists attend a protest in Hong Kong on April 28 against the government's proposed revision of the extradition law. Photo: AFP
Activists attend a protest in Hong Kong on April 28 against the government's proposed revision of the extradition law. Photo: AFP

Extradition law: What needs to be done

Amid the controversy over the government’s proposed extradition law changes, billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung, who was convicted of bribery and money laundering by a Macau court back in 2014 and, in absentia, sentenced to five years and three months in prison, recently filed a judicial review application against the government’s legislative initiative.

Last week Lau was approved by the High Court to have Queen’s Counsel David Pannick join his legal team that will represent him in the juridical review application. A hearing in relation to Lau’s application is scheduled for the next month.

Meanwhile, bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who claimed he was abducted by mainland agents in 2015 for selling books that were banned across the border, recently fled to Taiwan out of concerns arising from Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law revision.

Although the Hong Kong government has stated that the new law changes will only apply to the 37 types of extraditable offences listed under the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and that extradition requests made by the mainland will only be granted if the crime in question would lead to a jail sentence of at least three years in Hong Kong, I think such a reassurance is still not enough.

Instead, I believe the administration should consider introducing terms of limited retrospective effect into its proposed amendments, under which the new legislation, once passed, will be retroactive only from January 1, 2018.

Through such move, the new law would enable resolution of the matter pertaining to the murder committed by a Hong Kong citizen in Taiwan in February last year, while leaving cases such as those of Lau and Lam untouched.

In many cases, legislative initiatives are often legal issues that aren’t purely legal by nature. If any law change involves political interests, the government must take the interests of all stakeholders into account thoroughly.

That being said, I believe the most important task before the administration right now is to secure smooth passage of the extradition law changes through the Legislative Council so as to deal with the 2018 Taiwan murder case, and to send a clear message to fugitives across world that Hong Kong will no longer be a safe haven for them.

In the meantime, if the government insists on giving the new law unlimited retrospective effect, the chances of it getting passed in Legco by late July are likely to be very remote.

Also, even if the administration does manage to secure passage of the new legislation on schedule but fails to put in some safeguards, the repercussions would certainly last for a long time.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 23

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor