Sat, Dec 30, 2017 - Page 6 News List

HK lawyers ‘appalled’ by China law in rail station

Reuters, HONG KONG

An association representing Hong Kong barristers said it was “appalled” by the Chinese legislature’s move to enforce mainland laws inside a Hong Kong railway station, denouncing it as the most retrograde step since the 1997 handover.

The Hong Kong Bar Association said the decision would “severely undermine” confidence in the rule of law in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule 20 years ago with the promise of a high degree of autonomy.

The Chinese National People’s Congress on Wednesday said part of a high-speed railway station being built in Hong Kong would be regarded as mainland territory governed by mainland laws under a so-called cooperation agreement.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials have argued that such a joint immigration checkpoint is necessary for passengers’ convenience.

Hong Kong operates under a “one country, two systems” principle that allows it to run its own police force, immigration controls and an independent, British-style judicial system, with lawyers split into barristers and solicitors.

The Basic Law, the territory’s mini-constitution, explicitly states Chinese national laws, with a few exceptions, do not apply in Hong Kong.

“This plainly amounts to an announcement by the NPCSC [Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee] that the cooperation agreement complies with the constitution and the Basic Law ‘just because the NPCSC says so,’” the association said.

“Such an unprecedented move is the most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law, and severely undermines public confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law,” it said.

“The integrity of the Basic Law has now been irreparably breached,” it added.

The prospect of Beijing interfering in the financial hub has already stoked social tensions and protests, including the 2014 “Umbrella movement” street demonstrations that demanded, in vain, full democracy for the territory of 7.3 million people.

The abduction of Hong Kong-based booksellers in 2015, who later showed up across the border in Chinese custody, also touched a raw nerve.

The high-speed rail station is due to open next autumn in the heart of the territory, next to Victoria Harbour, one of the most famous views in the world.

The Hong Kong Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elsie Leung, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee in the NPCSC and the territory’s former legal chief, disputed the association’s comments.

“I think their understanding of the Chinese constitution is insufficient,” Leung told reporters in comments carried by Cable TV Hong Kong. “If you insist on using only common law principles to interpret the Basic Law, that is wrong.”

At a cost of more than HK$84 billion (US$10.75 billion), Hong Kong’s Express Rail Link is to connect with the rest of China’s high-speed rail network.

The plan is expected to sail through the Hong Kong Legislative Council in the first half of next year as opposition lawmakers have lost their veto power after a series of controversial court cases.

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