Speaking at the opening of the Hong Kong Legal Week 2020, which is organised by the Department of Justice, the chief executive said the civil unrest that ripped through Hong Kong had undermined the respect for, and the public perception of, the rule of law, and exposed shortcomings in the government with regard to safeguarding national security.
China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, unanimously approved the new law on June 30. It was adopted by the city’s government and took effect at 11pm the same day.
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“Since then, law and stability in society have been restored,” Lam said. “Now we have an enhanced system for Hong Kong to accurately and to comprehensively implement the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.
“Despite unjustified attacks by some foreign politicians and governments, I and my government will continue to stand fast to implement the national security law without fear or worry.”
The law bans secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. The maximum penalty for each crime is life imprisonment, although the suggested sentence for some minor offences is less than three years behind bars.
Officers of the new national security department have so far arrested at least 22 men and six women, with four of them held twice. Two men have been charged.
Last Friday, the High Court granted an interim injunction to protect judicial officers and their families from doxxing and harassment, and Lam said such behaviour should not be tolerated.
Speaking at the same ceremony, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said the independence of the judiciary was not related to politics, but a guarding concept that underlined the way judges discharged their constitutional responsibilities set out by the Basic Law.
Citing several articles of the city’s mini-constitution, Ma said the judiciary was free from any interference, and had independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication.
“The requirement that the court discharges its constitutional responsibility or exercises judicial power independently is, I stress, not related to politics, and the court is therefore not concerned with politics,” Ma said.
“Article 25 of the Basic Law states that all are equal before the law, and this of course includes the executive authorities. In other words, no one is above the law. Not only that, no one is able to influence the court.”
Ma, who will end his term in January, issued an 18-page statement in September to warn against politicising the judiciary, and said any criticism of the courts and judges without proper grounds would be detrimental to public confidence in the system.
He released the statement amid accusations concerning the impartiality of judges during hearings related to last year’s anti-government protests.
Monday’s ceremony also marked the opening of the Hong Kong Legal Hub and the official launch of the “Vision 2030 for Rule of Law”.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the project was a 10-year initiative which sought to promote proper understanding and recognition of the rule of law through professional exchanges, research, and capacity building with stakeholders including young people, legal practitioners, and academics.
She hoped the initiatives would help the sustainable development of inclusive and rule-based societies at both local and international level.