Hong Kong’s autonomy and judicial independence will not be undermined by Beijing’s plan to appoint a national security adviser to the chief executive, the city’s first postcolonial justice minister has said.
Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a former vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, said on Sunday that the role of the Beijing-appointed adviser, who would sit on a national security commission led by the chief executive, would only remain advisory.
Leung was speaking a day after China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, concluded its three-day meeting deliberating on various legislations ” including the national security law to be imposed on Hong Kong.
State news agency Xinhua said that the law, likely to be passed as soon as the NPCSC met again from June 28 to 30, would be overseen by a commission led by the city’s chief executive and supervised by Beijing.
Hong Kong’s leader will have the right to appoint former or incumbent judges, meaning foreign ones will not be expressly ruled out as was previously feared.
But critics accused the mainland would diminish Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law by the move.
Lawyers and opposition politicians have described it as “unusual” that Hong Kong’s leader will have the power to appoint judges, saying this would affect the city’s judicial independence.
But Leung brushed off such concerns, even though she admitted that she was disappointed as the full draft of the law had yet to be revealed.
“Judicial independence only means hearing should not be interfered,” Leung said.
“National security involves specific knowledge, and the information (shared in the commission) is not known by all judges and ordinary people. So, (the arrangement) is more about professionalism than political screening.”
Xinhua said on Saturday that the law would be given priority in the event of a contradiction with any local ordinance, and while Hong Kong would be in charge of enforcing the law, Beijing would retain the right to overrule the city on certain rare cases.
“For Hong Kong laws that are not in line with this (impending national security) law, this legislation’s requirements will apply, and the right to interpret this law lies with the NPCSC,” it reported.
Leung explained that it meant while local judges might interpret the law during trials, they should seek an interpretation from the NPCSC in case of any ambiguity concerning the central government’s role in those cases.
On the jurisdiction of Beijing, Leung felt there would be very few cases in which the central government would wish to assume power and she hoped the circumstances would be spelt out specifically in the bill.
She said that such circumstances might involve incidents when the city’s leader and principal officials committed such crimes.
“During British rule, when the Governors of Hong Kong committed a crime, they would be tried in Britain,” she said.
Citing the trial of Catalonian officials in Spain, Leung added that Beijing might also want to handle cases involving separatists from Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as international cases. These cases might be considered as “special circumstances” as Hong Kong would be unfamiliar with such situations, she added.
On Beijing’s plan to appoint the national security adviser, opposition lawmakers have questioned if he would enjoy “supreme power” over the chief executive.
But Leung said she believed that the adviser’s job was only to give advice.
“The role is to give opinion … of course the opinion of the adviser should be well respected. But in any case, he should not be able to directly order the commission on how to work,” she said.
But she added thmission would be accountable and responsible to the central government and the adviser shall report to Beijing.
Separately, a source in the mainland capital also dismissed suggestions that Hong Kong’s judicial independence would be undermined.
“Under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, the chief executive has been appointing judges anyway,” the source said.
Under Article 88 of the Basic Law, judges shall be appointed by the chief executive on the recommendation of an independent commission composed of local judges, persons from the legal profession and eminent persons from other sectors.
“The chief executive will only be required to designate a group of judges to hear national security cases, not to designate judges for a particular case,” the source said.
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