The Government today (June 3) announced a series of draft amendments to the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill, after careful consideration of the views of the Bills Committee and concerned parties.
The National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill, which implements Article 23 of the Basic Law, was introduced into the Legislative Council in February 2003 after a thorough three-month public consultation period.
"We believe the Bill and the amendments have struck a balance between the need to protect national security and the need to safeguard human rights," a Government spokesman said.
"We hope that the Bills Committee would scrutinize the proposed amendments and support the enactment of the legislation within this legislative year," he added.
Following are the main amendments -
1. Extending guarantees of rights and freedoms
The Bill provides in three places that the interpretation, application and enforcement of the relevant provisions must be consistent with Article 39 of the Basic Law which enshrines international human rights standards. For further assurance, we propose to extend these safeguards to refer to Chapter III of the Basic Law. The Chapter provides for various constitutional guarantees on rights and freedoms. We also propose to extend the coverage of the safeguards to the entire Official Secrets Ordinance.
2. Further tightening of sedition offences
In response to some concerns expressed, we propose to introduce the element of "likelihood" into the sedition offence. As a result, a person could only commit the sedition offence if he intentionally incites others to commit the specified crimes endangering the state, and when the crimes incited are likely to occur.
3. Removal of overlap between proscription mechanisms
To address the overlap of proscription powers on grounds of national security under the existing section 8 and the proposed section 8A of the Societies Ordinance, we propose to delete the reference to "national security" from the existing section 8, such that all proscriptions on national security grounds would be taken under the proposed section 8A. This would ensure that organizations proscribed on such grounds would benefit from the additional safeguard of an appeal avenue to the court as proposed in the Bill.
4. Special procedures for appeals against proscription
To address the concerns that it may not be the best arrangement for the Chief Justice to make rules for the special procedures, it is proposed that the Secretary for Security should be empowered to make regulations governing the special appeal arrangements. These regulations would be subject to vetting by the Legislative Council before coming into effect.
5. Three-year prosecution time limit for seditious publications
A time limit of three years is proposed for the prosecution of the offence of handling seditious publications, after taking into account practical requirements in investigating the crimes.
6. Authorization of emergency powers limited to the Assistant Commissioner level or above.
The proposed emergency investigation powers are already tightly defined in the Bill. To further allay concerns, we propose that the rank of police officers that can authorize such powers to be further raised to the Assistant Commissioner level or above.
End/Tuesday, June 3, 2003