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Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 09:05

Veteran barristers are confused about the law

By Leung Kwok-leung

Apple Daily, a mouthpiece of the radical opposition owned by political media tycoon Jimmy Lai, published a news report on Sept 17. It quoted Civic Party Chairman Alan Leong as saying he was worried the SAR government might arrest Legislative Council (LegCo) members participating in “Occupy Central” on the eve of the crucial LegCo vote on the government’s constitutional reform plan. Then, the “pan-democrats” will not have enough votes to veto the government’s bill, Leong argued.

He also said that, since most opposition lawmakers were prepared to join “Occupy” and their arrests might require outside assistance, it could be necessary to let them join the action in separate groups on different days.

The following day (Sept 18) Apple Daily ran a further interview with Leong, saying “it has been reported that the ‘Occupy’ movement plans to use ‘go for a drink’ as its codename when it begins taking action.”

Leong confirmed that many opposition lawmakers have promised to “go for a drink” when the day comes. Leong added that he might have to persuade some opposition politicians to stay behind as a back-up.

Leong went on to assume the SAR government will infuriate the great majority of Hong Kong residents by arresting opposition lawmakers on the eve of the crucial LegCo vote.

Margaret Ng, another leading member of the Civic Party and a former LegCo member, echoed Leong’s views about the potential impact these arrests might have.

She said “pan-democrat” lawmakers would be condemned by history if they were arrested and could not vote against the government’s bill. She also warned that if the government carries out any arrests on the day of the crucial LegCo vote it would push Hong Kong residents into the opposition camp.

Some other local newspapers carried similar reports. I quoted the Apple Daily reports above to be fair to Leong and Ng. Their statements convinced me they are illiterate in terms of law despite both being barristers.

The Basic Law and relevant decisions of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) require a two-thirds majority support for the SAR government’s constitutional reform bill to pass in the LegCo.

This requirement means at least 47 of the 70 LegCo members must vote in favor of the government’s bill.

According to Article 79(6) of the Basic Law, any LegCo member who has been found guilty of a crime and sentenced to one month or longer in prison can be stripped of his/her legislator status through a motion supported by two-thirds of LegCo members present — not necessarily 47.

There are only 43 establishment members in the LegCo and the government’s constitutional reform bill cannot be passed unless four opposition lawmakers also support it. That is why the “pan-democrats” are so confident they can veto the government’s bill and dare to challenge the central government on the issue of universal suffrage.

This shows that there is no possibility of the SAR government arresting opposition lawmakers on the day of the LegCo vote (to prevent them voting against the electoral reform bill). Leong and Ng have no reason to worry about this. What convinced these two veteran barristers-turned-politicians to publicly voice such unfounded concerns?

If their minds were muddled when they expressed their concerns, how does one explain that they clearly remembered the relevant stipulations in the Basic Law? If they were thinking clearly when they made these assumptions, how can anyone believe they failed to understand the same article of the Basic Law which makes it impossible for the SAR government to do what they suggested? If they really are illiterate about the law, how does one explain their veteran barrister status? Why do they insist on such unconstitutional demands as “public nomination”? These questions show Leong and Ng are politically confused. They are not qualified to represent the public in LegCo.

The author is a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong.

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