HK Bar Association ‘gravely concerned’ by security law

Philip Dykes
Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association Philip Dykes poses during an interview with AFP on July 2, 2020. A sweeping new security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing undermines the semi-autonomous city's independent judiciary and stifles freedoms, the city's influential Bar Association has warned. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

HONG KONG, July 2, 2020 (AFP) - A sweeping new security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing undermines the semi-autonomous city’s independent judiciary and stifles freedoms, the city’s influential Bar Association has warned.

In a scathing critique, the group detailed how the new law dismantles the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and China’s Communist Party-controlled courts since the 1997 handover.

The legislation outlawing acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces was passed on Tuesday in Beijing, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature, its wording kept secret until it was enacted later that day.

The unprecedented move has sent a wave of fear through the city, sparked international criticism and rattled the legal community in a business hub that has built its reputation on the independence and reliability of its courts.

In a five-page analysis, the Bar Association said the new national security offences were “widely drawn” and “are capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary, and that disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience, expression and assembly”.

“In addition to the total absence of meaningful consultation, lawyers, judges, police and Hong Kong residents were given no opportunity to familiarise themselves with the contents of the new law, including the serious criminal offences it creates, before it came into force,” the analysis added.

Under a deal ahead of the handover from Britain, authoritarian China guaranteed Hong Kong civil liberties as well as judicial and legislative autonomy until 2047 in a formula known as “One Country, Two Systems”.

Critics — including Britain — say the new law demolishes that deal, especially as China says it will have jurisdiction over some cases and has empowered its security agents to operate openly inside Hong Kong for the first time.

It has also claimed global jurisdiction, saying the law covers national security offences committed overseas — even by foreigners.

The Bar Association said the law makes clear “suspects can be removed to face trial in Mainland China” and points out that the process does not have the usual checks and balances of extradition hearings.