Legal sector to stage silent protest march over extradition bill

May 30, 2019 14:28
A file picture shows Hong Kong's legal professionals holding a silent march in November 2016 against the interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPC Standing Committee. The sector is now preparing to stage a protest over proposed changes to the extrad

Following a call by the Civil Human Rights Front for a June 9 mass protest against the government's extradition bill, the city’s lawyers are preparing to stage a separate march of their own next week to outline their opposition to the controversial legislation.

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who represents the legal sector, informed the media on Wednesday that the legal community will hold a silent march on June 6, with participants wearing black to highlight their disapproval of the law changes proposed by the government.

The rally will see enthusiastic participation as the legal sector is concerned about the amendments to the law that deals with transfer of criminal suspects to other jurisdictions, Kwok sad.

Legal professionals are of the opinion that the extradition bill can have far greater implications for Hong Kong than legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, which deals with the issue of national security, the lawmaker said.

Kwok’s announcement of the rare silent protest by the legal community comes as the government prepares to table the extradition bill in the full house of Legislative Council on June 12, hoping for its quick passage with the backing of pro-establishment lawmakers.

Legal professionals worry that revision of the law, which will allow Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to various jurisdictions, including mainland China, could undermine the city's judicial system.

A Reuters report Wednesday cited judges and lawyers in Hong Kong as saying that the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 could present one of the starkest challenges to Hong Kong’s legal system.

“Many of us see this as unworkable,” one highly experienced judge told Reuters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “And we are deeply disturbed.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration have repeatedly stressed that there are provisions to stop people from being persecuted for political crimes, religious beliefs or being put at risk of torture, and that Hong Kong’s judiciary can play the role of gatekeeper.

But some judges say China’s increasingly close relationship with Hong Kong and the limited scope of extradition hearings would leave them little room for maneuver.

These judges worry that if they try to stop high-profile suspects from being sent across the border, they would be exposed to criticism and political pressure from Beijing.

Conversely, they may be accused by people of doing Beijing’s bidding if they approve contentious extradition requests.

On Wednesday, Kwok slammed the government and accused it if misleading the public by making the claim that Hong Kong courts will be in a position to act as gatekeeper.

The legal community is worried that it will be put in a difficult position when handling cases pertaining to requests for transfer of fugitives to mainland China.  

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said it is inappropriate for judges to comment on political affairs, particularly on cases which may appear before them in future.

Article 85 of the Basic Law clearly stipulates that Hong Kong’s courts exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference, stressed Cheung, who also said Hong Kong’s courts have had experience in handling a number of extradition cases over the past 22 years.

Speaking to media after attending a Legislative Council meeting, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah pointed out that there is nothing the chief executive can do if a local court decides not to transfer a fugitive.

And even if an extradition decision is made by a local court, the chief executive can still decide whether the order for the transfer is given, Cheng said.

When making a decision on the transfer, a judge will see if a crime committed by a person also constitutes a crime in Hong Kong, the justice chief stressed.

In related news, a motion of no confidence over Chief Executive Lam was voted down by lawmakers on Wednesday.

The motion was moved by Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who accused the Lam administration of undermining the "one country, two systems" principle, as well further dividing the Hong Kong society, by pushing the extradition bill despite opposition from the general public and the international community.

After six hours of debate, the motion was voted down 40 to 23, RTHK reported.

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