Extradition bill: Govt seeks to allay fears over China judiciary

June 06, 2019 17:16
Hong Kong’s Security Secretary John Lee has argued that fears over lack of judicial independence in mainland China are overblown. Photo: HKEJ

As the government continues its efforts to push changes to Hong Kong's extradition law, Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu on Wednesday sought to dismiss concerns over China's judiciary, arguing that judicial independence in the mainland is not bad as people seem to believe.

Attending a meeting of the Legislative Council's Panel on Security to discuss the controversial extradition bill, Lee suggested that fears regarding China's judicial system and the mainland's potential treatment of transferred fugitives were misplaced or overblown.

During the gathering, the last of the special meetings held by the Legco's security panel on the fugitives bill, the minister cited research data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) to make the claim that China's judiciary can be relied on to act in a fair and independent manner in handling criminal cases pertaining to people who have been extradited from other jurisdictions.

Responding to questions from lawmakers about the judiciary in the mainland, Lee said China was ranked 45 among 140 countries/economies in a list complied by WEF on judicial independence.

China scored 4.5 in the WEF assessment, faring better than South Africa and Spain, for example, Lee pointed out.

The WEF list, which seeks to portray how independent a country's judicial system is perceived from influences of the government, individuals, or companies, uses scores of 1 to 7, with 1 representing 'not independent at all' and 7 being 'entirely independent'.

So if one divides the list into thirds, China is ranking in the top third, Lee said, apparently referring to an executive opinion survey published by the WEF.

According to a WEF document published last year, China was actually ranked No. 46 on judicial independence, with a score of 4.5.

Media reports have pointed out that the WEF data was based on a survey that asked corporate executives to rate the level of judicial independence for each of the countries, and that the WEF did not explain why it chose the executives’ views for determining the rating.

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who represents the legal sector, dismissed Lee’s defense, pointing out that the same WEF survey has shown that China was ranked 121 among 126 countries/economies when it came to human rights protection.

Kwok then asked Lee to answer the question as to whether China is able to provide sufficient human rights protection. The security chief said he cannot comment further.

There are different references for different aspects, Lee said, adding that he doesn't want to argue with lawmakers.

The special meeting was held before the second reading of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 takes place in the Legislative Council on June 12.

Claudia Mo Man-ching, convener of the pan-democrats' meeting group of lawmakers, and fellow opposition legislator Au Nok-hin moved motions to demand retraction of the bill, only to see their bids being voted down.

Lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) said in a media gathering after the special meeting that the discussions on the extradition bill went through five sessions in the past few days, during which a combined 20 hours were spent on the matter.

According to Chan, the sessions saw 49 lawmakers ask questions as many as 141 times in total.

Chan says it is hard for the deliberations to be completed in a short period of time as expected, especially since lawmakers have proposed a large number of amendments to the bill.

In related news, Lee also told lawmakers on Wednesday that he has seen some positive results  after senior officials made efforts to explain the bill to local and foreign people and respond in person to issues related to the law revision.

As for the need to take further measures to allay public concerns, Lee said the central authorities have shown understanding and respect towards Hong Kong, and that they appreciate the Hong Kong government's various mainland-related measures.

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