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Thursday, October 9, 2014, 08:51

HKBA: Don’t denigrate constitutional principles

By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong
HKBA: Don’t denigrate constitutional principles
Travel agency and restaurant owners, whose businesses have been affected by the “Occupy Central” sit-ins, display their claim letter outside Wan Chai Tower on Wednesday. They filed a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal against Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the “Occupy” initiators, for compensation of their losses incurred because of the protests. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

Denigrating discussion of constitutional principles on universal suffrage election as “trivial technicalities” or “trickery”, the Hong Kong Bar Association warned ahead of  dialogue between the government and students, is “dangerous” and “inimical” to the rule of law in Hong Kong.

The HKBA made these comments in a strongly worded statement on Wednesday.

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and senior officials in charge of electoral reform will talk to the Hong Kong Federation of Students on Friday. Government officials told the students on Tuesday Lam will deliberate on the constitutional basis of Hong Kong’s electoral arrangements.

In a critical response to the media, Lester Shum, deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), accused the officials’ mention of constitutional principles as “tricks to fool the people” and an attempt to sidestep their demands with “trivial legal technicalities”.

As the two sides tried to secure a venue for the talks, one of the city’s two most prestigious legal groups, the HKBA, said that it viewed the students’ comments “with considerable alarm”.

“Whatever misgivings there may be concerning the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of August 31 2014, it is dangerous — and inimical to the rule of law — for discussions of constitutional principles to be openly denigrated as ‘trivial technicalities’ or ‘tricks’,” it said.

Citing former-chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, the bar association appealed for rational discussions within the parameters of the Basic Law. “The inescapable fact is that any discussion of electoral progress must be conducted within the framework of what is constitutionally permitted,” it said.

In an attempt to overturn the top legislature’s ruling and adopt “public nomination” — a concept labeled as unconstitutional by HKBA — protesters had spent the past 11 days camping out in key areas of the city. The rush hour traffic queue extended for 20 kilometers on Wednesday morning.

Protesters insisted that this breach of law was an act of “civil disobedience”. But the association argues that such “deeply controversial and divisive” actions are not a defense in law. It said participants should respect the rights and freedoms of other people, and “behave with a sense of proportion”.

The HKBA is aware of claims the protesters “are at least beginning to cause” excessive damage and inconvenience to “a not insignificant part of the community”. These claims have been echoed by residents and businesses.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the organizers of “Occupy Central”, is already being sued by a travel agency owner at the Small Claims Tribunal. A Japanese restaurant at Mong Kok, which loses two-thirds of its business every day, also plans to file a claim for HK$230,000 against the protest groups with the District Court.

Luis Liu contributed to this story.
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