Speech by Secretary for Justice


Following is the speech by the Secretary for Justice, Ms Elsie Leung, at the International Bar Association Conference on the worldwide application of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights today (Saturday):

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be invited to speak at this important conference on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For those of you who are visiting Hong Kong, may I extend a warm welcome and wish you an enjoyable and rewarding stay here. Hong Kong is, I believe, an appropriate location for this conference. Not only does it have a great deal to offer visitors, but also, so far as the ICCPR is concerned, it has set an example for other jurisdictions.


The ICCPR has applied to Hong Kong, at the international level, since the year it came into force - 1976 - and it continues to apply to the Hong Kong SAR. Since 1991, relevant provisions of the ICCPR, as applied to Hong Kong, have been incorporated into Hong Kong's domestic law by virtue of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. That Ordinance is now one of the laws of the Hong Kong SAR.

Since reunification, the ICCPR has been given a special status in Hong Kong by virtue of Article 39 of the Basic Law, which is Hong Kong's new mini-constitution. The first paragraph of Article 39 provides that the provisions of the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force and shall be implemented through the laws of the Special Administrative Region. The second paragraph provides that the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents shall not be restricted unless as prescribed by law, and that such restrictions shall not contravene the provisions of the preceding paragraph.

The ICCPR is therefore firmly rooted in Hong Kong's legal system. On December 4, 1997, China's Permanent Representative to the UN issued a diplomatic note to the UN Secretary General informing him that, in line with the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law and considering that China is not yet a signatory to the ICCPR, China will make reference to the provisions under the ICCPR and transmit reports on the HKSAR to the UN through China's Permanent Representative to the UN. The reports will be drafted by the SAR Government and submitted to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for onward transmission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. We plan to submit the first report in August this year.

Another welcome development occurred in March this year, when China announced that it would sign the ICCPR. This is particularly significant for Hong Kong, since China's accession to the ICCPR will reinforce Hong Kong's human rights regime.

The resumption of sovereignty

As I am sure you all know, at the end of this month the Hong Kong SAR will celebrate its first anniversary. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to review the effect of the reunification, and to discuss some of the significant legal developments that have occurred in the past 12 months. Some of these developments have been the subject of criticism, but I firmly believe that, when properly understood in the context of the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong, they were fully justified. Moreover, they were consistent with the SAR's obligations under the ICCPR.

So far as the legal system and human rights are concerned, the resumption of sovereignty has been highly successful. Under the principle of 'one country, two systems', Hong Kong has retained its own separate legal system, together with the rule of law and an independent judiciary.

The common law and almost all the statutory laws previously in force have been adopted as laws of the SAR. All judges serving immediately before reunification were re-appointed on the recommendation of the independent Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission. And the new Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong, which replaces the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, makes our highest appellate court more accessible to litigants. In addition, the local and overseas judges who have been appointed to that court are of the highest calibre, and have already given the court a reputation for quality, integrity and independence.

A further aspect of the new order that is significant is that, under Article 63 of the Basic Law, the Department of Justice of the SAR controls prosecutions, free from interference. That department, which I head, is continuing to apply well-established and politically neutral criteria in respect of decisions to prosecute. I wish to re-affirm that the political persuasion or personal connections of any suspected offender have not been, and will not be, factors in prosecution decision-making in the SAR.

The Bill of Rights Ordinance

As I said a moment ago, almost all the statutory laws previously in force have been adopted as laws of the SAR. The basis for that position is Article 160 of the Basic Law. This provides that, upon the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR, the laws previously in force in Hong Kong shall be adopted as laws of the Region 'except for those which the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress declares to be in contravention of [the Basic Law].'

In February 1997, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress resolved that 24 Ordinances, in whole or in part, contravened the Basic Law and were not to be adopted as laws of the SAR. Amongst the provisions that were not adopted were three provisions in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. I hasten to add, however, that the non-adoption of these provisions did not dilute the rights and freedoms enshrined in that Ordinance.

The provisions in question stated -

* firstly, that in interpreting and applying the Ordinance, regard should be had to the fact that its purpose is to provide for the incorporation into the law of Hong Kong of provisions of the ICCPR;

* secondly, that all pre-existing legislation that admits of a construction consistent with the Ordinance shall be given such a construction, and legislation that does not admit of such a constructions is, to the extent of the inconsistency, repealed; and

* thirdly, that legislation enacted on and after the commencement of the Bill of Rights Ordinance shall, to the extent that it admits of such a construction, be construed as to be consistent with the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.

As I said earlier, the continued application of the ICCPR is guaranteed by Article 39 of the Basic Law. The non-adoption of the three provisions in the Bill of Rights Ordinance has not therefore diluted the rights and freedoms enshrined in the ICCPR, or the protection of those rights and freedoms in Hong Kong's domestic law. Later on I will mention a number of cases in which the Bill of Rights has been relied upon in court challenges since Reunification.

The Provisional Legislative Council

Let me now turn to one of the most controversial aspects of the reunification, which was the establishment of the Provisional Legislative Council. The political background to this development is well-known, but let me summarise the legal aspects of it.

Article 68 of the Basic Law provides that the Legislative Council shall be constituted by election. Annex II of the Basic Law states that, in the first term, the Legislative Council shall be formed in accordance with a specified decision of the National People's Congress. That decision was made on April 4, 1990, the same day as the Basic Law was promulgated.

The decision provided for a Preparatory Committee to be established in 1996, one task of which was to prescribe the specific method for forming the first Legislative Council of the SAR. The decision also set out the composition of the first Legislative Council, namely 20 members to be returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections, 10 members by an election committee, and 30 members by functional constituencies.

That, in fact, is the composition of the first SAR LegCo that was elected last month. Where, you may ask, does that leave the Provisional Legislative Council? The answer is as follows.

At the time of the promulgation of the Basic Law in April 1990, it was hoped that there would be a 'through train' for members of the last Hong Kong Legislative Council. However, as a result of the political reforms instituted by the last Governor, this became impossible. The composition of the last Hong Kong Legislative Council was not acceptable to the People's Republic of China.

As a result, in August 1994 the Standing Committee of the NPC authorised the Preparatory Committee to organise the first SAR Legislative Council in accordance with the 1990 decision of the NPC. In March 1996 the Preparatory Committee decided to set up the Provisional Legislative Council. The composition of that Council did not conform with the composition of the first SAR Legislative Council set out in the NPC's decision of 1990. In particular, it was not formed by the kind of elections required by that decision.

But the Provisional Legislative Council never purported to be the first SAR Legislative Council. It was an interim body set up, out of necessity, with limited terms of reference to assist the first SAR Government in the absence of the first Legislative Council.

Given the breakdown in the 'through train', it was simply not possible to establish the first SAR Legislative Council without some form of interim legislature. In the absence of such a legislature, it would not have been possible to enact the electoral laws needed to establish the first SAR Legislative Council. Moreover, other essential legislation could not have been passed, and government funding could not have been approved, at a critical time for the SAR.

The Provisional Legislative Council was therefore needed as a matter of political necessity.

There were those who argued that the Council was not legally constituted, since it was not provided for in the Basic Law. Those arguments were put before the SAR's Court of Appeal in a landmark case in July of last year.

The court unanimously held that the Provisional Legislative Council was lawfully established by the Preparatory Committee, exercising the authority and powers conferred on it by the National People's Congress.

So far as the ICCPR is concerned, I would point out that when the United Kingdom ratified the covenant in 1976 it did so subject to certain reservations. One of these was in respect of Article 25, which provides for periodic elections to be conducted by universal and equal suffrage. The reservation was to the effect that the Article did not require the establishment of an elected Executive or Legislative Council in Hong Kong.

That reservation still applies to the Hong Kong SAR and is reflected in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. Neither the Provisional Legislative Council, nor the first SAR Legislative Council, are therefore inconsistent with international obligations or domestic law applying in Hong Kong.

In my view, the Provisional Legislative Council served the Hong Kong SAR well. Had there been no such interim legislature the results would have been potentially disastrous. The Council put in place essential legislation and ensured that necessary funding for the SAR Government was available.

Some of the laws enacted by the Provisional Legislative Council were controversial. I propose to review those controversial laws and explain how they are fully justified. It is essential to bear in mind not only that the ICCPR applies to the SAR, but also that the SAR is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China, and must comply with the Basic Law. Certain amendments to our laws were a necessary part of the establishment of the SAR in accordance with the Basic Law.

Societies Ordinance and Public Order Ordinance

Let me start with the amendments to the Societies Ordinance and Public Order Ordinance enacted on July 1, 1997. Both Ordinances have played a key role in maintaining law and order in Hong Kong. However, a few years before Reunification, major amendments were made to them.

Under the Societies Ordinance as originally enacted, societies generally had to be registered. In 1992 the Ordinance was amended in two important ways. First, there was a repeal of the provision permitting the Registrar to refuse to register a society if it was connected with any political group established outside Hong Kong; and secondly, the registration system was replaced by a notification system.

The Public Order Ordinance contains provisions dealing with public meetings and processions. In 1995, the Ordinance was amended, in particular, by replacing the licensing system that applied to public processions by a system of prior notification.

In February 1997, the Standing Committee of the NPC resolved that the major amendments to the Societies Ordinance and Public Order Ordinance made in 1992 and 1995 respectively would not be adopted as the laws of the SAR. If no action had been taken, there would have been a legal vacuum after reunification, since there would have been no law governing the formation of societies or the regulation of public demonstrations and processions. In order to avoid this, the Chief Executive of the SAR issued a consultation document in April 1997 in respect of proposals to amend the two Ordinances. After taking into account public views received, the Chief Executive's Office prepared two Bills. These were passed by the Provisional Legislative Council and came into effect on July 1, 1997.

In preparing these Bills, care was taken to ensure that restrictions imposed on freedom of association and freedom of assembly were consistent with the ICCPR.

In the case of the Societies Ordinance, new societies are now required to apply for registration, or exemption from registration, within one month of establishment. An application may be refused if the Societies Officer reasonably believes that the refusal is necessary in the interests of national security, public safety, public order (ordre public) or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The Ordinance expressly states that the last three of these expressions are to be interpreted in the same way as under the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.

An application may also be refused if the society is a political body that has a connection with a foreign political organisation or a political organisation of Taiwan. This is consistent with Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires the SAR to enact laws to prohibit political organisations or bodies in the SAR from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies.

In the case of the Public Order Ordinance, organisers of public meetings and processions are required to notify the Commissioner of Police of their intention to hold the meeting or procession. In the case of a proposed public procession, if the Commissioner of Police does not object to it, he must issue a 'notice of no objection'. The Commissioner of Police may only prohibit a public procession or meeting if he reasonably considers that this is 'necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public) or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.' Again, the last three of those expressions are to be interpreted in the same way as under the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.

The amendments to the Public Order Ordinance and Societies Ordinance were subject to some criticism at the time they were made. Some feared that they indicated an approach that was hostile to human rights. That fear was misplaced. The amendments struck the right balance between civil liberties and social order. They reflected both the ICCPR and the Basic Law and, as I am sure you can see for yourselves, political activities and demonstrations in Hong Kong remain as lively as ever.

Let me illustrate that statement by some revealing statistics. From July 1, 1997 to March 31, 1998, there have been over 1,260 public demonstrations in Hong Kong and 626 societies formed. On average, about 140 demonstrations have been held each month since the handover, compared with 87 demonstrations a month before the handover in 1997. The police have not objected to the holding of any of these demonstrations nor refused any application for formation of societies.

Legislative Provisions (Suspension of Operation) Ordinance 1997

Let me now turn to another legislative problem that had to be faced after Reunification. At the last sitting of the former Legislative Council in June 1997, a number of Private Members Bills were hastily passed without detailed scrutiny by a Bills Committee and without full consultation with those affected. Considerable public concern was expressed about this legislation.

The SAR Government adopted a rational approach of promoting legislation to suspend the operation of four of those enactments, until their impact could be thoroughly analysed and proper consultation carried out.

Three of the enactments related to employment law. The Administration reviewed those enactments in close consultation with the Labour Advisory Board - a well-established tripartite consultative forum comprising the Government, employers and employees. At the end of the review, the Administration promoted legislation that was eventually passed by the Provisional Legislative Council. The effect of that legislation was to repeal two of the employment Ordinances and amend the third.

The other Ordinance whose operation was suspended was the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (Amendment) Ordinance 1997. I am sure that this will be of particular interest to delegates at this Conference. The background to that Ordinance was as follows.

When the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance was enacted in 1991, it included a provision to the effect that it was binding only on the Government and public authorities, and on any person acting on behalf of the Government or a public authority. The 1997 amendment, which was not scrutinised by any Bills Committee, added a provision stating that the Ordinance applied (and I quote) 'to all legislation, whether that legislation affects legal relations between the Government, public authorities and private persons, or whether it affects only relations between private persons.'

The operation of this amendment was suspended, pending a review of its implications. Eventually, the Administration decided that the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance should be restored to its original form, and a Bill to repeal the amendment was enacted.

There were several objections to the amendment. Its drafting and interaction with other parts of the Ordinance caused uncertainty and confusion. More importantly, it could have greatly complicated litigation between private persons by bringing into question the validity of legislation affecting them. It should be noted that although the ICCPR requires action to be taken in respect of certain types of activity, such as discrimination, by private citizens, this can and is being dealt with by specific legislation. And Article 39 of the Basic Law, which I mentioned earlier, guarantees that Hong Kong residents will enjoy the standards of human rights prescribed in the ICCPR. The amendment Ordinance was therefore more trouble than it was worth, and its repeal was not inconsistent with the Administration's commitment to protect human rights in Hong Kong.

Immigration Ordinance

Let me now turn to amendments to the Immigration Ordinance enacted by the Provisional Legislative Council. It is, I think, self-evident that Hong Kong has to control the flow of immigrants from the Mainland. Since 1982 this has been achieved through a One-Way Exit Permit System, which involves a daily quota of permits being issued by Mainland authorities. This system has worked well.

The Reunification introduced a new factor in respect of immigration, since Article 24 of the Basic Law confers a right of abode in the SAR on a number of categories of people. These include persons of Chinese nationality born outside Hong Kong of Chinese citizens who were either born in Hong Kong or who have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years.

The effect of that article is to confer a right of abode in the SAR on tens of thousands of children born and raised in the Mainland, who did not previously have such a right. If all these children arrived at once, the impact on the social support services would be extremely difficult to bear. Moreover, it would be undesirable to allow all children who claim to have the right of abode in Hong Kong to enter Hong Kong before their status can be determined.

The Administration therefore introduced amendments to the Immigration Ordinance to implement a Certificate of Entitlement Scheme in respect of such Mainland children. In order to enjoy their right of abode, they must hold a valid travel document, which in practice means a valid one-way exit permit issued by Mainland authorities, to which there is affixed a valid certificate of entitlement issued by the Department of Immigration. In order to obtain such a certificate, they must prove to the satisfaction of the Director that at least one of their parents had the right of abode in Hong Kong.

The scheme has been controversial - as immigration controls often are. I will deal later with the legal challenges that have been made to the legislation. For now, I would point out that other common law jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, have similar methods of verifying a person's immigration status; and that Hong Kong's new scheme has been running smoothly. In the first nine months following Reunification, it has ensured a speedy and orderly admission of nearly 17,000 Mainland children.

Legislative Council Ordinance

I mentioned earlier that one of the essential tasks of the Provisional Legislative Council was to enact the electoral law that would make it possible for the first Legislative Council of the SAR to be established in accordance with the Basic Law. That law, the Legislative Council Ordinance, was enacted in September last year, and regulated the election of Legislative Councillors that took place last month. That election involved a record number of registered voters (2.8 million), a record number of candidates (166), and a record participation of 53 per cent of registered voters.

In accordance with the Basic Law, the first Legislative Council consists of 60 members, elected directly or indirectly. Twenty members were elected by universal suffrage from geographical constituencies, on the basis of a proportional representation voting system. Thirty members were indirectly elected from functional constituencies. These constituencies represent economic and professional sectors, such as the labour, real estate and medical sectors, that are substantial and of importance to the community. The final 10 members were indirectly elected by an Election Committee consisting of 800 members. The great majority of those members were returned through elections supervised by an independent Electoral Affairs Commission.

These arrangements are in accordance with the Basic Law, which contains a blueprint for Hong Kong's democratic development. Progress in this respect will be gradual and orderly. For example, the proportion of members of the Legislative Council to be elected by universal suffrage will be increased to half for the Council's third term. Further progress in this direction after the year 2007 can be decided upon by the community, in accordance with the Basic Law.

Adaptation of Laws (Interpretative Provisions) Ordinance 1998

The final piece of legislation I will mention is an adaptation of laws Ordinance. Following Reunification, the laws of Hong Kong need to be textually amended to remove colonial terminology that is no longer appropriate. For example, references to the 'Governor' need to be replaced by references to the 'Chief Executive'.

One such amendment was recently made to a provision relating to the 'Crown'. The provision stated that the Crown was not bound by any Ordinance unless the Ordinance contained an express provision, or a necessary implication, to the contrary. This reflected a common law principle that applies in almost all common law jurisdictions.

In adapting that reference to the 'Crown', great care was taken to ensure that the new provision accurately reflected the meaning of that expression. In this context, the 'Crown' included Her Majesty the Queen, the British Government, British Forces in Hong Kong, and the former Hong Kong Government. The word 'Crown' was replaced by the word 'State', which was defined so as to encompass corresponding organs of the PRC. These are the President of the PRC, the Central People's Government (CPG), central authorities which exercise functions for which the CPG is responsible under the Basic Law, the Government of HKSAR, and certain subordinate organs of the CPG or those central authorities.

A subordinate organ of the CPG or of those central authorities is within the definition of 'State' only if it satisfies the following three tests:

* it carries out executive functions of the CPG or functions for which the CPG has responsibility under the Basic Law;

* it does not exercise commercial functions; and

* it is acting within the scope of the functions and authority delegated to it by the CPG or the relevant central authority.

The adaptation of this provision therefore does no more, and no less, than preserve the substance of the law before Reunification and reflect the change in sovereignty. It has, however, given rise to the most startling misconceptions. Some overseas press reports stated that Chinese State-owned Enterprises have been given a special status in Hong Kong. This is quite wrong. The definition of 'State' expressly excludes any organs that exercise commercial functions. And assertions that relevant State organs are 'above the law' are equally misleading. No one ever asserted that the British Government, the British Forces in Hong Kong, or the former Hong Kong Government were above the law - because they were not. The same position holds true of the SAR Government and relevant State organs.

I would add that Hong Kong's autonomy to enact laws that are binding on State organs is completely unaffected by this amendment.

Court challenges under the Basic Law

Having reviewed various Ordinances enacted by the Provisional Legislative Council, let me now turn to the court challenges that have been made to some of those Ordinances. These challenges have been possible after Reunification because, for the first time, Hong Kong now has a detailed written constitution. Litigants are therefore able to challenge legislation on the basis that it is inconsistent with the provisions in the Basic Law. Those provisions include Article 39, which provides for the continued implementation of the ICCPR as applied to Hong Kong.

I have already mentioned the case in which the legality of the Provisional Legislative Council was unsuccessfully challenged. That case also involved an assertion that the common law had not survived Reunification, since it had not been positively adopted as part of the laws of the SAR. Article 160 of the Basic Law provides that, upon the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR, the laws previously in force in Hong Kong 'shall be adopted as laws of the Region'. The court unanimously held that this article did not require any formal adoption of the laws previously in force and so the common law did survive Reunification.

There have also been challenges to the immigration legislation which introduced the certificate of entitlement scheme, and which implemented other relevant provisions of the Basic Law. Those cases have now been heard by the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal and may yet be appealed to the Court of Final Appeal and so my following comments are subject to the outcome of any such appeal. The scheme itself was attacked on four main grounds. First, it was argued that a person who claims the right of abode in Hong Kong by descent is entitled under the Basic Law to entry into Hong Kong before he or she establishes the facts giving rise to the claim. It was therefore claimed that those persons could not be required to produce a certificate of entitlement before being allowed entry. Secondly, it was argued that it was not permissible to use immigration legislation as a means of avoiding the social problems that would arise if large numbers of Mainland children exercised their right of abode at the same time. Thirdly, it was argued that the scheme was incompatible with Article 8(4) of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, since it arbitrarily deprived persons of the right of abode in Hong Kong. Fourthly, it was argued that the scheme could not lawfully be made retrospective to 1 July 1997.

The first three arguments were rejected by the court. The Basic Law merely identifies the categories of persons who have the right of abode in Hong Kong, and leaves the question as to how the facts on which the claim to right of abode should be established to be determined by the legislature. Moreover, the Basic Law itself requires persons living in Mainland China who seek to exercise their right of abode in Hong Kong to obtain a one-way exit permit from the Chinese authorities before coming to Hong Kong. The fact that those claiming the right of abode by descent were singled out for the certificate of entitlement scheme did not deprive them of their right to enter Hong Kong, nor was it an arbitrary scheme. With regard to provision making the legislative scheme retrospective to July 1, 1997, the court upheld the provision. It held that the restrictions on the exercise of the right of abode were already contained in the Basic Law, which was in place on July 1, 1997. It nevertheless held that the scheme did not apply to persons in Hong Kong who arrived before that date even though their presence in Hong Kong before that date was unlawful.

Two particular aspects of the legislation have also been challenged. A provision requiring children born out of wedlock to derive their right of abode through their mothers and not through their fathers was declared to contravene the Basic Law and was excised from the legislation. Such children were considered to be within the categories of children who are given the right of abode.

Another provision restricting the right of abode of children born outside Hong Kong to those whose mother or father had acquired the right of abode in Hong Kong by the date of their birth was at first held to contravene the Basic Law. However, on appeal it was held that this provision reflected the plain meaning of the words of the Basic Law.

There is one further area, namely regulation of the civil service, which has been the subject of a challenge under the Basic Law. Before Reunification, the regulation of the civil service was achieved by means of Colonial Regulations, issued by the Secretary of State to the Governor, and regulations made under them by the Governor. After Reunification, the Chief Executive issued an Executive Order in respect of the Civil Service, under Article 48(4) of the Basic Law, and issued regulations under that Order. These instruments were challenged by the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants. The Basic Law requires that the previous system in respect of public servants 'shall be maintained', and that the appointment and removal of public officers shall be 'in accordance with legal procedures'. It was argued that these requirements had not been satisfied, as the new scheme had not been approved by the Legislative Council. The court rejected the challenge, holding that the previous system was established by executive action and could therefore be maintained in a similar manner.

The court did, however, declare that public officers were not bound by one provision which prohibited a public officer under interdiction from leaving Hong Kong without permission. It was held that this was a restriction on the freedom to leave Hong Kong, protected by Article 8(2) of the Bill of Rights, and the restriction was not 'provided by law'. The court therefore declared that holders of public office to whom the Executive Order applies were not bound by that restriction.

Human Rights and the Rule of Law

What do these court challenges and decisions demonstrate? In my view, they demonstrate that human rights are fully protected in the SAR by an independent Judiciary, and that the rule of law is as strong as ever. Members of the community are able to challenge laws and procedures that they consider to be inconsistent with the ICCPR, or the Basic Law, and in some cases those challenges have been successful.

They also demonstrate that the Provisional Legislative Council was lawfully established and that the immigration legislation enacted by it was, with the exception of one provision, lawfully enacted.

Challenges ahead

What of the future? There are many significant legal challenges ahead.

As many of you may know, Article 23 of the Basic Law provides that the Hong Kong SAR shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, or subversion against the Central People's Government. This provision is a reflection of Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy since, even though the offences referred to are offences against the Central People's Government, the SAR is to enact its own legislation in respect of them.

In preparing this legislation, the SAR Government will have full regard to the provisions in the ICCPR and the Basic Law concerning freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. It will also take into account public opinion. The proposals will be fully debated by the members of the Legislative Council and will need to be acceptable to them.

Another challenge lying ahead is the development of a bilingual legal system in Hong Kong. The foundations for this have already been laid, in that all our Ordinances are bilingual, and all courts are allowed to operate in either the English or Chinese language. A large proportion of cases heard in the magistracies are already conducted in Cantonese. In developing bilingualism, we are determined that the quality of the administration of justice should be maintained.

We will continue to develop a body of jurisprudence in respect of the Basic Law. As more challenges based on the Basic Law are determined, and the Court of Final Appeal becomes involved in such cases, uncertainties will be removed and principles of interpretation will emerge. This will bring added strength and vigour to the Basic Law, and reinforce its effectiveness in determining the rights and obligations, and powers and privileges, guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong.

Within my own department, I am determined to develop the training of counsel, to streamline the procedures, and make full use of the new technology that is available. My department plays a key role in the legal system and administration of Hong Kong and we must ensure that our services are of the highest standard.

My department will also contribute to the growing debate concerning alternative dispute resolution. The possibility of introducing court-assisted mediation in certain areas is already being considered and we must be alive to different, and less stressful, ways of resolving disputes.

As you can see, there are many challenges ahead. However, I am confident that the SAR can meet these challenges, and that our legal system will grow from strength to strength.

End/Saturday, June 13, 1998