法治 Rule of Law

今年正值香港回歸二十週年,劍橋大學香港及中國事務會 (University of Cambridge Hong Kong and China Affairs Society) 與倫敦經濟與政治學院HKPASS聯手合作,一連四天出版「香港般的地方」系列回顧。從香港過去二十年的社經、政治大事,探討我們一直引以為傲的核心價值的變遷,從中探索香港的前路。

In light of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover, the Cambridge University Hong Kong and China Affairs Society and the LSESU Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society jointly present our Handover series -- ‘A Place Like Hong Kong’. The series features major societal events that shaped Hong Kong in the past 20 years, and how the core values, deemed the cornerstone of our society, have evolved since then. While analysing the timeless societal values our society holds dear, we wish to explore with you the future of Hong Kong.

 

 

在一個法治社會中,不單市民要守法,政府也同樣需要守法。提到“法治”,普遍大眾也會想到法律面前人人平等,法律制度公平、公開及一致,政府的權力為法律所限制和司法獨立等原則。香港被稱為“法治社會”,法治在港人心中是崇高的核心價值,究竟我們身處的社會如何體現出法治精神呢?

法律制度公平、公開及一致

1997年香港回歸,在一國兩制下,《基本法》是香港的憲制性文件。《基本法》保障法律制度的公正,香港的一切法律必須以不違背《基本法》為依歸。香港的法律制度維護所有市民在陪審團制度下接受公平的審訊、所有人均有無罪推定和上訴的權利。同時,《基本法》規定,法官的產生須由本地法官、法律界及其他界別的知名人士所組成的獨立委員會推薦。《基本法》第85條更規定法官進行的審判將不受法律追究,令法官不須擔心外界的壓力,可以自主地作出判決。

法律面前人人平等

據《基本法》第25條,「香港居民在法律面前一律平等」,所有市民犯法皆會依法處理並受到懲處,即使是政府也不可以凌駕於法律之上。同時,港人所受到的保障亦是平等。27條至28條亦表明,香港居民的人身自由、政治、經濟、文化教育等權利和自由受到保障。

司法獨立

法院審訊不受行政和立法機關干預,享有獨立的審判權和終審權。《基本法》(第二條)保留了香港殖民地時期的三權分立制度,行政權(香港政府)、立法權(立法會)和司法權(各級法庭)三權獨立運作,互相制衡,以避免有任何一方權力過大或管治者濫權的情況。法律一經制定,解釋法律和按照法律判決的權力則完全屬於司法機關,政府和立法會不能再作干預。

雖然“法治”兩字並未有出現在基本法中,香港社會崇尚法治,港人的自由、生命和財產受到安全的保障,這種精神締造了安定的生活環境。香港能成為國際金融中心,法治也是最為重要的條件之一。在公開公平的法律制度下,營商人士和投資者對香港的營商環境有信心。獨立的司法制度亦讓政府更加注意其政策措施,市民的權益和自由也進一步受到保障。

When one mentions the constitutional principles of Hong Kong’s ‘rule of law’, most evoke conceptions of equality, judicial independence and the fairness of judgement as embodiments of this very core value. The legal system of Hong Kong remains a source of pride for Hong Kong people and the sanctity of ‘rule of law’ remains our most treasured core value. So how does the Basic Law protect this core value and does it translate to our wider society?

Transparency and Fairness

Article 85 of the Basic Law dictates that the courts of the HKSAR shall exercise their judicial power independently, free from any interference. This is protected by the stipulation that members of the judiciary shall be immune from legal action in the performance of their judicial functions. Moreover, the transparency and fairness of our legal system is protected by a high standard of judges, as the Basic Law dictates that HKSAR judges must be appointed by the Chief Executive upon the recommendation of an independent commission composed of local judges, persons of the legal profession and eminent persons from other sectors.

Equality of all

According to Article 25 of the Basic Law, all Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law, and under the same constraints, regardless of whether it is the government or a citizen under question. Concurrently,as per Article 27 and 28, all Hong Kong residents receive the same inviolable freedoms and protection -- of speech, press, publication, association, assembly, procession and demonstration among others.

Judicial Independence

Judicial decisions are not influenced by executive and legislative branches of the HKSAR Government. According to Article 2 of the Basic Law, the NPCSC authorises HKSAR to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. Independent branches of government prevents the abuse of power by any singular branch, allowing decisions surrounding the rule of law to be influenced by courts and only courts, protecting judicial independence.

The Basic Law protects the freedom, property and livelihood of the Hong Kong people, creating a stable and prosperous environment that fosters Hong Kong’s position as a global financial hub. In a fair, transparent and equal system, businessmen and investors can have confidence in the financial environment of this city. An independent judicial system translates into better implementation of policies, lending to the protection of the rights and freedom of Hong Kong people.

 

 

人大五次釋法

在過去二十年與香港法治最為有關的事件,相信就是人大釋法。釋法指全國人大常委會對《香港基本法》進行解釋。基本法第158條規定,解釋權屬於全國人民代表大會常務委員會。根據該條文,香港法院獲得全國人大常委會授權,在審理案件時可以對關於特區自治範圍內的條款作自行解釋。有法律界人士認為,本條第三款意指釋法的程序應由特區政府從下而上提出呈請而啟動。而釋法的範圍,則主要集中在關於中央政府管理的事務,以及中央和特區關係的條款。

回歸二十年間,全國人大常委會曾先後五次對《香港基本法》作出解釋,其中,兩次由香港特區行政長官提出,兩次由全國人大常委會主動釋法,終審法院則提出一次。每逢全國人大常委會對《基本法》進行解釋,總會引起一番關於香港法治的爭論。以下是五次釋法的簡單介紹:

第一次釋法:居港權問題 (1999年)
涉及條文:基本法第22條(4)、第24條(3)
提請單位:特區政府

1999年1月29日,終審法院就首宗居港權案「吳嘉玲案」裁定政府敗訴,裁定港人內地所生子女於出生時,即使父或母當時仍未成為香港永久居民,也可擁有居港權。政府聲稱因判決而擁有居港權的港人內地子女高達168萬人。1999年5月18日行政長官會同行政會議決定提請第一次人大釋法。同年6月26日,時任保安局局長葉劉淑儀聯同時任律政司司長梁愛詩向全國人大常委會尋求釋法,人大指出只有在出生時,父或母已成為香港永久居民的內地子女,才可擁有居港權。雖然釋法將統計人數減至二十七萬人,本港司法界憂慮這衝擊終審法院的權威。

第二次釋法:香港政制發展 (2004年)
涉及條文:基本法附件1第7條、附件2第3條
提請單位:全國人大常委會

2004年香港開始就07/08年政改作出討論。同年3月26日,全國人大常委會宣布會就《基本法》有關修改行政長官及立法會產生方法進行釋法,是次釋法為全國人大常委會首次主動釋法。釋法結果將原有政改程序的三部曲改成五部曲。除「須經立法會全體議員三分之二多數通過,行政長官同意,並報全國人大常委會批准或者備案」外,加入特首要就政改先向人大常委提交報告,以及要由人大常委批准兩項程序。

第三次釋法:補選行政長官任期 (2005年)
涉及條文:基本法第53條(2)
提請單位:特區政府

2005年,時任行政長官董建華因病辭職。各界對下任行政長官的任期出現分歧。2005年4月6日,署理行政長官曾蔭權請求國務院提請全國人大提出就《基本法》第53條作出解釋。4月27日,十屆全國人大常委會第十五次會議對釋法問題進行表決,通過香港特區行政長官補選任期釋法草案,規定下一任補選產生的行政長官任期兩年,並非五年。

第四次釋法:香港對外事務 (2011年)
涉及條文:基本法第13條(1)及第19條
提請單位:終審法院

2011年,終審法院就剛果民主債務案作審理,剛果指案件涉外交豁免權,本港法院無權審理。同年6月8日,終審法院以三比二的多數裁定,此案需要尋求人大常委釋法。最終人大常委通過,香港特區須跟從中央人民政府,對剛果民主共和國實施「絕對外交豁免權」。這是唯一一次由終審法院提出釋法。

第五次釋法:香港立法會宣誓風波 (2016年)
涉及條文:基本法第104條
提請單位:全國人大常委會

2016年的宣誓風波被評為香港回歸以來爭議性的一次人大釋法。2016年10月12日,當選立法會議員梁頌恆及游蕙禎因散播港獨思想被拒絕監誓。隨後,香港特區政府就梁頌恆及游蕙禎第二次宣誓入稟高等法院,提出司法覆核。全國人大常委會其後於11月7日,梁、游一案裁決前,表決通過釋法草案。釋法涵蓋條文的涵義、適用範圍及法律後果。此次釋法被指修改僭越特區立法權,同時就人大釋法的追溯力引起爭議。

Article 158 of the basic law grants the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) the power to interpret the law under three criteria; that it either concerns affairs that are the responsibility of Beijing or its relationship with Hong Kong, is issued at the request of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (CFA) (except when it concerns China’s sovereignty), and is an interpretation rather than an amendment of the law. In the 20 years since Hong Kong’s handover, the NPCSC has interpreted the basic law five times, twice initiated by the Chief Executive, twice initiated by the NPCSC, and once by the CFA.

Here’s a brief history of how the NPCSC has interpreted the basic law in the past.

The Right to abode, 1999

Initiated by the HKSAR government, it concerned the question of whether children born in the mainland before their parents became permanent residents of Hong Kong qualified for a right to abode in the territory under Article 24. In the Ng Ka Ling and Chan Kam Nga cases of 1999, the CFA ruled that all children born of permanent residents regardless of when they were born had the right to abode in Hong Kong. However, if the CFA’s decision was implemented, the HKSAR government estimated that 1.6 million mainland residents would immigrate to Hong Kong over the next ten years, which was a burden Hong Kong could not cope with.

The NPCSC overturned the CFA’s judgement, saying it was ‘not consistent with the legislative intent’; their interpretation was that children born outside Hong Kong will be qualified for the right to abode if at least one of their parents had a permanent resident status at the time of their birth. According to NPCSC, the applicants for the right to abode in Hong Kong should also apply for permission from mainland authorities before entry to Hong Kong.

The election of the Chief Executive, 2004

Initiated by the NPCSC, two new rules were added to the process of electing a chief executive; which according to Article 45 of the Basic Law, should be elected by universal suffrage. The NPCSC added that the chief executive must first report to the NPCSC about any amendment to the method of election, and that only the NPCSC can decide when it is necessary. It preserved the status quo of having the Chief Executive chosen by an election committee under the effective control of Beijing, and the majority of seats in the Legislative Council elected by narrowly defined professional groups, ignoring the provisions in the Basic Law annexes that allowed for amendments to Hong Kong’s election system after 2007 and the obligation in Article 45 and 68 of Basic Law to move towards universal suffrage.

Replacing a Chief Executive, 2005

When Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa asked to resign from office in March of 2005, neither the Basic Law Article 53 nor the Chief Executive Ordinance specified what should happen next. The acting Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, requested an interpretation of the Basic Law and proposed that the succeeding chief executive should fulfill the remainder of Tung’s Term. NPCSC interpreted the law to agree with Tsang in this instance.

Diplomatic Immunity, 2011

Initiated by the Court of Final Appeal, the need for NPCSC interpretation stemmed from the Congo case in 2008. US Company FG Hemisphere Associates LLC (FG), a creditor to the Congo, wanted to seize $102 million of the entry fees for mining rights paid by China Railway Group to satisfy debts that Congo owed. Hong Kong Courts in 2010 ruled in favour of FG, stating that states do not have strict immunity in commercial proceedings. Congo took the case to CFA and CFA requested NPCSC interpretation; Beijing ruled that since the Central Government was responsible for Hong Kong’s foreign affairs, Congo should have the right to diplomatic immunity.

Taking the oath for office, 2016

NPCSC’s 5th interpretation comes after Youngspiration Party’s Leung and Yau declared Hong Kong a nation and used a racial slur to refer to China during their swearing-in ceremony on Oct 12. The HKSAR government filed a judicial review application to ban the two from re-taking their oaths. NPCSC passed the bill to intervene on the 5th of November 2016, enforcing the sanctity of the oath-taking process. On the 15th of November, the High Court of Hong Kong revoked Leung and Yau’s legislator positions.

 

 

根據香港中文大學香港亞太研究所對香港核心價值的研究,最多受訪者表示同意或非常同意的核心價值是法治 (92.7%)。作為香港社會最被認同的核心價值,維持我們法治的公開和公平對與港人而言是最為重要的。然而,在數次人大釋法下,港人對於2047年後香港的法治發展開始擔憂。香港大學對香港法治程度作出訪問,港人對香港法治程度的評價2012年的7.26分降至6.63分。南華早報報導,前終審法院法官烈顯倫批評香港法律制度濫用司法覆核,亦沒有為2047年後的法律制度作打算。烈顯倫認為,從司法覆核得出的判斷非常模糊,對於大眾而言很難理解。此外,他補充,司法覆核的失誤亦於香港社會引起軒然大波。2010年「港珠澳大橋案」的司法覆核被指造成的嚴重的延誤和超支,為司法覆核失敗的典型例子。

回顧香港法治歷史,近年數次傷害司法制度權威的事件確實削弱了普羅大眾對司法制度的信心。然而,香港於世界公義工程所發表的全球法治指數中,排名依然穩居前二十名,揭示我們引以為傲的基本法精神仍屹立不倒。我們的司法制度定當一夫當關,捍衛賦予我們的權利和義務。我們的司法制度力倡法律面前人人平等,在云云自由及權利中,言論及出版自由更被珍而重之。在「五十年不變」的承諾下,香港將維持原有的資本制度以及上述權利、自由。

然而,變幻才是永恆,我們的社會又豈會如「馬照跑、舞照跳」的諾言般一成不變?2047後,我們的社會奉行的會是「一國兩制」,抑或「一國一制」?在本土自決思潮及愛國愛港一黃一藍的洗禮下,迎接我們的,又會是何等光景?

According to CUHK’s survey findings on views on Hong Kong’s core values, over 90% of the 804 respondents strongly agreed or agreed that ‘rule of law’ (92.7&) and ‘just and corruption-free’ (92.3%) are the core values of Hong Kong. Moreover, among the 11 values that were deemed as Hong Kong’s core values, the largest proportion of respondents voted for ‘rule of law’ and ‘freedom’ as the most important one.

As one of the most treasured core values of Hong Kong society, ensuring that our legal system retains its judicial independence and trust of the Hong Kong people is of the utmost importance. Yet, it is not without reason to suggest that this trust between the people and the rule of law has wavered in the past few years under strain from political scandals such as the oath-taking debacle and the increasing issue of post- 2047 matters. In an SCMP article, ex-Court of Final Appeal Judge Henry Litton lambasted Hong Kong’s legal system for misusing judicial reviews and ‘sleepwalking’ towards 2047 without concrete plans for Hong Kong’s legal future. Litton argues that judgements derived from judicial reviews are ‘so obscure’ that no one can understand them, to the point that it is ‘drowning in irrelevance’; Moreover, he adds that failings in the judicial review has led to costly repercussions to the Hong Kong society, citing the delays and cost overruns of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge as a result of a ‘misjudged’ court case between a Tung Chung resident in 2010 and the director of environmental protection as a prime example of such failings.

Yet despite the wavering confidence in Hong Kong’s legal system lately, the city’s rule of law still ranks among the Top 20 in the world, reminding us that the general principles of the Basic Law are still protected, and that our fundamental rights and duties endowed upon us by the legal system remain inviolable.We are all equal before the law, our freedom of speech, press and publication, among others, are still inviolable, and our capitalist system is still under provision to remain unchanged for the next 50 years. Yet this is perhaps the biggest question facing this beloved core value -- what will happen after 2047? Will China grant Hong Kong an extension of the current autonomy and Basic Law? Will China only grant Hong Kong some but not all of our current privileges? Or will Hong Kong lose its special status and simply become a normal Chinese province without any autonomy? Food for thought.

 

 

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