Court case poses challenge to new Hong Kong government
July 24, 1997
Web posted at: 2:03 p.m. EDT (1803 GMT)
HONG KONG (CNN) -- A court case went into recess for the weekend pending a judgment next week that could plunge Hong
Kong's post-colonial government into a constitutional crisis.
Several prominent lawyers are testing the legality of the new
Provisional Legislature, which was appointed by a
Beijing-backed committee. The case has proven the most
serious challenge to the fledgling government since it took
over from British rule on July 1.
Democratic Party attorneys had already filed one lawsuit,
claiming that both Hong Kong's constitution and the Basic Law
require the first legislature to be elected. The suit was
thrown out of court.
This latest legal challenge grew out of a simple criminal
conspiracy case. Defense lawyers argued that the charges
against their clients ceased to exist after the handover,
because the new legislature had not transferred colonial-era
laws into their statute books.
The argument throws into doubt the status and legality of the
Provisional Legislature, installed to replace an elected
chamber when Britain handed its 156-year-old colony over to
China on July 1.
Legal experts said Tuesday's judgment might be confined to
the status of the criminal case from which it sprang. Fresh
challenges could arise if the court fails to produce a
binding judgment on the Provisional Legislature.
Former Bar chairwoman Gladys Li, who is leading a group of
attorneys in the charge against the government, said judges
had the right to rule on the legality of the chamber.
Those who sit on the new body say they were forced to create
the provisional chamber because 1995 electoral rules
spearheaded by the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, did
not conform to Sino-British agreements.
Solicitor General Daniel Fung said Hong Kong's court has no
power to rule on a legislature that was established by the
sovereign power, China. And he warned that any bid by the
court to declare the interim body illegal would invite chaos
and jeopardize the entire legal system.
"If your lordships were to rule against us ... there would be
no legal system. The rule of law exists to protect people,
and cannot be used to destroy society," Fung said.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has expressed confidence that
his government will win the court case, but he said it would
abide by the ruling either way.
Not only is the provisional legislature at stake in this
court battle -- the decision, expected on Tuesday, could also
determine the definition of Hong Kong's autonomy as a special
administrative region of China.
Correspondent May Lee and Reuters contributed to this report.
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