(Photo Credits: Jennifer Lau)
On the 15th November I was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk by The Hon Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma (co-organised by the UCLU PASS and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London). He talked about the importance of rule of law in Hong Kong.
For many people, rule of law means the court delivering a decision they like. If the result is something they do not like, to them the rule of law does not exist. However, Mr. Ma argues that this result-driven perspective is wrong. The result is not, and should not be a complete indicator of rule of law. What matters most is the process undertaken by the courts in reaching the decision. Whether rule of law exists depends on two things: 1. Whether laws, good laws, that respect the dignity of individuals exist, and 2. Whether there are truly independent institutions such as courts to enforce the good laws. He argues that both of these two conditions are satisfied in Hong Kong. Besides, he reminds us that we must ask ourselves a few questions to see if rule of law does exist in Hong Kong objectively. First, are court proceedings transparent? Are the reasons of court decisions publicized? Is the court fair and impartial? Can every member of the public go into a court and see what is going on? If the answer to these questions is yes, then objectively rule of law stands in Hong Kong.
On concerns that the Basic Law would not be continued after 2047, Mr. Ma believes that the common law has served Hong Kong well. It is evident that it is a sound system as many countries around the world continue to adopt it as their legal system. He hopes that Hong Kong will be able to convince the authorities that the current legal system is good enough so that it can be perpetuated.
Many people believe that the recent interpretation of the Basic Law by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) regarding the oath-taking incident constituted a heavy blow to the rule of law in Hong Kong. Although Mr. Ma declined to comment on this, I believe that whether we like it or not, the NPC standing committee does have the power to interpret any part of the Basic Law. However, should they be allowed to do so anytime it wants, not just when referred to by the courts? Another interesting question to reflect on would be “When is it an interpretation, and when does it go beyond?”
As a law student myself, I felt drawn to what the Chief Justice said not just because my lecturers have just finished covering these two topics, but also because after listening to him, I realised that the concept of rule of law does not just exist in textbooks, but vividly in real life, where it protects our fundamental rights. It was definitely a fruitful experience.