The High Court has postponed hearing the government’s judicial review against four pro-democracy lawmakers to February. The four lawmakers had criticised the authorities for rushing the case in court in a bid to disqualify them.
Those challenged include Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law Kwun-chung of the Demosistō party, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, and Edward Yiu Chung-yim who represents the architecture sector.
Barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, chairwoman of the pro-democracy Civic Party who represents Yiu, argued in court that the case involves the public interest and lawmakers should be given a reasonable time to prepare their arguments. She criticised the government for being oppressive in requesting the legislators to submit their statements with only two weeks notice.
Eu added that the four were elected into the legislature by voters, and the public may have an “uneasy feeling” if they cannot obtain legal opinion due to the short amount of time.
Eu is the only barrister representing Yiu among the four lawmakers in court. The other three were not represented by lawyers at Thursday’s hearing. All four of them have applied for legal aid and are awaiting approval.
The government lodged the judicial review against the four lawmakers in early December. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the Secretary for Justice asked the court to declare the offices of the four lawmakers vacant over the oaths they took during October’s swearing-in session.
Benjamin Yu Yuk-hoi, who represents the government, said the court should start hearing the case as soon as possible because it could follow the judgement laid down by the Court of Appeal as it disqualified the candidacies of two localist lawmakers in November.
“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung also emphasised in court that the Chief Executive received an “unlimited amount” of public money in fighting the lawsuit, whereas the four did not have access to it.
The hearing came after the High Court declared in November that two elected politicians from the separatist Youngspiration party, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wau-ching, had “declined” to take their oaths and must therefore be disqualified from the legislature. After losing their appeal later in the month, the duo said they would take the case to the Court of Final Appeal by the end of December.
Prior to the pair’s court hearing Beijing had made an unprecedented move to reinterpret Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. It ruled that oath takers must take the oath “sincerely” and read out the oath “accurately, completely and solemnly.” It opened the door to the scrutiny of other pro-democracy legislators’ oath taking.
During the ceremony, Lau read her oath is slow motion over a period of almost ten minutes. The legislature’s clerk accepted her oath then, but the president later rejected it. Lau retook her oath in November.
Meanwhile, Yiu added the phrase “for democracy and for Hong Kong’s sustainable development” as he took his oath. Law allegedly changed the tone as he read out “People’s Republic of China” to make it sound like a question, whereas Leung brought props to the stage and shouted slogans before and after reading his oath.
Before the case was heard, the pan-democratic camp protested outside the High Court and showed solidarity with the four lawmakers.
Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, a legislator from the Civic Party, said the government’s move to challenge the seats of four pan-democratic lawmakers in court was politically motivated. He urged Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung to retreat the case, adding: “I don’t see that the government has any moral rights to go on with this judicial review.”
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, a lawmaker who received death threats after he was elected, said he did not want to see Hong Kong becoming an authoritarian society like Singapore.
“The government is using public money to suppress our Legislative Council,” he added. “We do not want to see that our democratically elected lawmakers have to face suppression from the judiciary. This is not what judicial review is for.”
“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, one of the four members challenged in court, said the judicial review showed that the administration was “arrogant”. He said the government acted “like a king who ordered the dismissal of its ministers”, adding that lawmakers were elected by the people.
Pro-democratic legislators have traditionally used the oath-taking as a means of protest, but never before have there been such repercussions.