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Tuesday, January 13, 2015, 09:06

Rule of law to face major challenges

By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong
Rule of law to face major challenges
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung delivers a speech during the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2015 at Hong Kong City Hall on Monday. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

Hong Kong’s political reform and rule of law will face significant challenges in 2015, the secretary for justice said on Monday.

“Can there be universal suffrage without the rule of law? I would, without doubt, say this is not possible,” Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung stated at the inauguration of the legal year at Hong Kong City Hall.

“The reason is obvious. The rule of law is the bedrock of democracy and universal suffrage,” added Yuen.

He said the pursuit of “any other noble causes cannot and should not be used as a justification to act in any way which would erode the rule of law”.

Yuen argued that Hong Kong’s constitutional reforms must adhere to the law. He said disputes should be dealt through proper channels so courts could review challenges fairly.

Yuen lamented continued calls for unlawful activities “at least for the time being” of the “Occupy Central” movement. He urged agitators to return to the “realm of the rule of law and rationality”.

He said further illegal activities, especially major ones, would do further harm to Hong Kong.

Prosecutions stemming from the illegal occupations would only be carried out if there was sufficient evidence to convict those responsible and if it was in the public interest, Yuen said.

The Department of Justice would “never allow prosecution to be used as a political instrument, still less as a means to exact political revenge,” Yuen explained.

The secretary also addressed allegations of wrongful arrests and prosecutions. He noted that officers were entitled to make an arrest on reasonable suspicion of an offense having been committed.

“(Police) are not required to consider matters such as public interest, which would have to be considered by the Department of Justice. Due to such differences, the mere fact that an arrested person is not subsequently charged with any criminal offense does not necessarily mean the police have made a wrongful arrest; nor does it necessarily follow that the prosecutors have failed in their duty to commence prosecutions,” Yuen said.

Meanwhile, the city’s top judge hailed court rulings to break up illegal occupations as examples of Hong Kong’s respect for the rule of law.

Speaking just before Yuen at the legal ceremony, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said a series of injunctions against illegal protesters sought by affected companies and granted by the High Court, “demonstrated an adherence to the rule of law”.

He said the proceedings had been meticulous in weighing every possible legal argument.

Ma said all parties had been given every opportunity to argue their case.

“Every step in the proceedings was carried out according to law and legal procedure,” Ma said. He said that judgments were detailed and reasonable.

Ma said court judgments and orders should be respected and complied with. He was alluding to dozens of present and future arrests for flouting court orders to leave protest sites after weeks of repeated warnings.

Chairman of the Bar Association Paul Shieh Wing-tai said despite its peaceful beginning, the “Occupy Central” protests got out of hand. He cited influential figures for criticism over their role in misleading those involved in the protests.

Shieh said those people wrongfully argued that disobeying civil judgments was not against the rule of law, or that the rule of law only constrained the government but did not apply to citizens.

Shieh was also critical of biased media coverage favoring the protests. He said public comments made by a non-permanent judge, a veiled reference to quotes taken from Justice Kemal Bokhary, were taken out of context. They were then misinterpreted by protest supporters.

He also noted that people who criticized the excesses of the movement were indiscriminately demonized as “democracy traitors”.

“Anyone who does not unreservedly support everything done during the movement was castigated,” he said. He noted that such passionate views were most pronounced on social media networks. 
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