Former Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nan said the interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) ahead of a ruling by local courts last November has brought about negative impressions on Hong Kong’s judicial independence.
In an exclusive interview with Ming Pao Daily, Li said the nature of the interpretation was understandable, as it involved issues of sovereignty.
However, the timing of the action, in the middle of local court proceedings, has inevitably created a negative impact on public confidence in judicial independence, he said.
The retired chief justice was commenting on the NPCSC’s interpretation of Article 104 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which requires public officers, including lawmakers, to pledge allegiance to the Basic Law and to Hong Kong as part of China.
The interpretation was issued amid controversy over the validity of the oath-taking by two localists elected as members of the Legislative Council.
Li explained that he hoped that Beijing would come to understand that those who questioned the necessity of interpreting the law were not trying to act against Beijing, but rather to protect the “One Country, Two Systems” policy.
He said the “One Country, Two Systems” concept was unprecedented, and despite the many challenges faced by Hong Kong over the last two decades, he believes the rule of law and judicial independence in the territory have been robust and intact.
Li said Hong Kong people need to accept the fact that the NPCSC has the right to fully interpret the Basic Law, although he conceded that its decision to overturn the Court of Final Appeal’s ruling on the right of abode in 1999 was highly controversial.
That particular incident provided for a valuable experience for all parties under the new constitutional order, he said, adding that Beijing and Hong Kong have since developed an understanding that the interpretation of the Basic Law should only happen under exceptional circumstances.
Li is of the view that the NPCSC should avoid overturning local courts’ decisions via the interpretation of law, as it will undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence.
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