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法政匯思意見書:強烈譴責人大釋法 為政治目的濫用解釋權

2016/11/8 — 14:00

法政匯思就 2016 年 11 月 7 日人大常委會釋法的意見書

1. 2016 年 11 月 7 日,全國人民代表大會常務委員會(「人大常委會」) ,聲稱行使《基本法》第 158 條賦予的權力,就《基本法》第 104 條釋法 (「該釋法」)。

2. 這是人大常委會第五次解釋《基本法》。總括而言(下面會進一步解釋),法政匯思對該釋法的意見如下:

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(1) 人大常委會確實擁有不受約制的權力解釋《基本法》,但是它沒有權力(i) 解釋香港本地法例;或 (ii) 修改《基本法》或香港本地法例。

(2) 該釋法已遠遠超越了對《基本法》的解釋,並意圖規定一些屬於香港本地法例範圍以內而非《基本法》的事項。就法律原則而言,我們認為該釋法中這些超越對《基本法》解釋的部分不具法律約束力 。不幸的是,在政治現實中,人大常委會無須為其越權行為負責。 

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(3) 該釋法在兩方面嚴重破壞了法治及香港的自治:(i) 它實際上為香港 進行本地立法;和 (ii) 它是在香港法院涉及同一事項的案件的裁決前作出。該釋法成為令人非常不安的先例,並預示著一國兩制的未來 危危可岌。 

《基本法》第 158 條之法理及過往之使用

3. 根據香港終審法院(「終審法院))之裁定,人大常委會根據《中華人民共和國憲法》第 67(4) 條及《基本法》第 158(1) 條擁有不受約制和一 般性解釋《基本法》的權力: 劉港榕訴入境事務處處長 (1999) 2 HKCFAR 300。 

4. 但是,《基本法》同時訂明香港享有高度自治,並擁有獨立的司法權,其中包括終審權。《基本法》第 158(2)條授權香港法院在審理案件時對關於香港特別行政區自治範圍內的《基本法》條款自行解釋。 

5. 《基本法》第 158(3) 條清楚訂明,只要解釋的條款不是關於中央人民政 府管理的事務或中央和香港特別行政區關係(即「排除條款」),則香港法院有權自行解釋該些條款。

6. 需要留意的是,人大常委會釋法的權力僅涵蓋《基本法》本身。該權力並不引伸至解釋香港本地的法例。此限制於《基本法》第 158(1) 條清楚可見:「本法的解釋權屬於全國人民代表大會常務委員會。」

7. 因此,就人大常委會超越對《基本法》條文進行釋法的範圍的部分,均屬於第 158 條的框架之外。基本法委員會委員陳弘毅教授曾指出,在該情況下,(即使人大常委會聲稱其解釋不論是因明示條款或必然含意適用於香 港),香港法庭可以合法地聲稱該解釋於香港是沒有法律效力的。1

8. 歷史上,人大常委會曾經四度釋法:

(1) 1999 年 6 月,人大常委會就《基本法》第 22 條(4)及第 24 條(2)及 (3) 釋法,推翻終審法院就吳嘉玲訴入境處處長(1999) 2 HKCFAR 4 一案的判決。2 該次釋法於終審法院判政府敗訴後,應行政長官要求而作出。 

(2) 2004 年 4 月,人大常委會就《基本法》附件一第 7 條及附件二第 3 條釋法,3 本質上為政改程序附加兩個步驟。該次釋法由人大常委會主動提出。 

(3) 2005 年 4 月,人大常委會就《基本法》第 53 條(2) 作出第三次釋法。該釋法是應行政長官要求作出,以處理因行政長官提早離任而需 選出繼任的新行政長官的任期。4

(4) 2011 年 8 月,人大常委會應終審法院的要求就《基本法》第 13 條 (1) 及第 19 條作出解釋。該釋法於終審法院在剛果民主共和國訴 FG Hemisphere Associates LLC (2011) 14 HKCFAR 95 一案作出臨時判決後作出。5 

9. 以上的人大常委會釋法,尤其是於 1999、2004 及 2005 年的釋法,對香港司法獨立及法治造成極大的損害。每次釋法都為香港社會帶來極大爭議及廣泛的憂慮。 

10. 香港大律師公會及香港律師會過去曾再三地警告解釋權不能被肆意及無限 制的使用,因為此舉將會削弱司法機關的權威性地位及損害香港的法治 : 

(1) 2000 年 1 月,大律師公會主席曾批評政府拒絕確認一旦政府於「燒 國旗」案敗訴,將不會提請人大常委會釋法:6

「政府拒絕確認的效果 … 就是任何終審法院對《基本法》的 詮釋,一旦不被特區政府認同的話,便將一直受到政府會向人大常委會尋求釋法的威脅 … 這會成為懸在終審法院頭上的一 把刀。社會對我們司法制度的信心及司法獨立必然會受損害。 」 7

(2) 就 2005 年 4 月的釋法(參見以上第 8(3) 段),大律師公會強烈反對政府在沒有任何香港法院判決的情況下要求人大常委會釋法:

原則,更是不尊重法治,令致香港居民以至國際社會的有識人士感到憂慮。」8

(3) 就 2005 年 4 月的釋法,律師會亦表達以下意見:

「《基本法》內容清晰,並無釋法需要。即使有疑問亦最好交由香港法院解決。即使有需要釋法,亦應小心及克制地進行, 因為法治的基本原則,例如正當的程序、透明度及由獨立司法 機關作出的合理的判決,乃維持法治必要的因素。」9

(4) 於 2012 年 5 月,大律師公會曾表示政府要求人大常委員釋法只能是萬不得已最後的手段。10

(5) 律師會亦曾在其 2012 年 10 月 10 日的新聞稿表示: 

「… 香港的司法獨立已被清楚確立,而香港法官的質素、品格及威望,一直都受到尊重。基於社會曾經對由人大常委會對 《基本法》的解釋對司法獨立及法治的影響,而法治亦是香港的核心價值之一,香港律師會認為,政府在考慮是否就《基本 法》的條文作出解釋時,應該謹慎行事。」11

11. 前終審法院首席法官李國能亦曾強調人大常委會雖然有廣泛的解釋權,但是應非常小心及克制地使用此權力: 

「… 人大常委會只應在非常特殊的情況下,才行使其解釋權。…人大常委會不應行使釋法權力以推翻香港法院的判決,特別是終審法 院的判決。儘管這樣的釋法仍是合法和對香港有約束力,但卻會對香港的司法獨立造成負面的影響。」12

該釋法的內容是什麼?它有什麼法律後果? 

12. 該釋法是由立法會議員的宣誓事件引起。其所針對的《基本法》第 104 條 的相關部分如下:「香港特別行政區…立法會議員…在就職時必須依法宣誓擁護中華 人民共和國香港特別行政區基本法,效忠中華人民共和國香港特別行政區。」

13. 該釋法之中文全文是公開文件。13 我們撰寫此意見書時,英文譯本尚未發布,故英文版本意見書內的分析,乃基於我們就該釋法的非官方翻譯。

14. 該釋法是「不受約制」的,即是它由人大常委會主動提出,而非由香港特別行政區首長或香港法院的提請下而作出的。 

15. 遺憾地,該釋法不只「解釋」第 104 條的意義,而是為香港的本地法例加入了新的法律要求,尤其是該釋法等於在《宣誓及聲明條例》(香港法例 第 11 章)加入新的內容。此舉與《基本法》第 17 條相違背,即香港特別行政區享有立法權。該釋法違反了一國兩制的基本原則—即香港法例應 由香港而非內地訂立。

16. 又或,由於該釋法在第 104 條加入新的內容,所以等同修改《基本法》, 然而人大常委會繞過了《基本法》第 159 條所訂明的所有修訂程序。

17. 我們對該釋法的內容的意見如下: 

(1) 該釋法的第 2(2)段:它說明宣誓人根據《基本法》第 104 條,除了其他事項,必須宣讀包括「擁護中華人民共和國香港特別行政區基 本法,效忠中華人民共和國香港特別行政區」內容的法定誓言。而該宣誓人必須「真誠」、「莊重」地進行宣誓,必須「準確」、「 完整」、「莊重」地宣讀誓言。

(a) 這清楚證明該釋法遠遠超越了解釋《基本法》,並且嘗試加入新法律要求。《基本法》第 104 條只是要求宣誓須「依法」。 「依法」的意思在梁國雄訴立法會秘書處(HCAL112/2004, 2004 年 10 月 6 日)的判決第 22 至 23 段提到: 

「『依法』一詞具有明確的含義。這意味著立法會議員必須根據符合香港法律的方法和形式作出宣誓…香港法律包括香港本 地的法律,而這包括了香港的法例。規管立法會議員以及其他 高級官員宣誓的有關法例為《宣誓及聲明條例》,(香港法例 第 11 章)。」 

(b) 正如梁國雄案確定,香港法例本身已有涵蓋《基本法》第 104 條的要求,即《宣誓及聲明條例》。如該釋法是希望解釋有關宣誓的特定要求,那麼該釋法其實是解釋了《宣誓及聲明條例 》,而不是《基本法》。這基本上是等如在《宣誓及聲明條例 》之上,不經立法會,制定新的香港法律。 

(2) 該釋法的第 2(3) 段:它說明如宣誓人拒絕宣誓,即喪失就任該條所列相應公職的資格。另,如宣誓人「故意」宣讀與法定誓言不一致的誓言或者以任何「不真誠」、「不莊重」的方式宣誓,也屬於拒 絕宣誓,所作宣誓無效。

(a) 這是另一個清楚的例子說明該釋法是一個超越《基本法》的解釋。在《基本法》104 條中根本沒有明示或暗示這些結論。 

(b) 事實上,該釋法的第 2(3) 段解釋了《宣誓及聲名條例》中第 21 條「拒絕或忽略作出該項誓言...」。我們必須再次強調人大 常委會的權力並不包括解釋香港本地法例。這解釋權是香港法 院獨有的權利。

(3) 該釋法第 2(4) 段:該段說明,除了其他事項,宣誓必須在監誓人( 以下簡稱「監誓人」)面前進行。對不符合該釋法和香港特別行政區法律規定的宣誓,應確定為無效宣誓,並不得重新安排宣誓。 

(a) 但是《基本法》第 104 條,《宣誓及聲名條例》或《香港立法會議事規則》內並沒有訂明不可以再宣誓。我們亦留意到,《 宣誓及聲名條例》第 19 條只訂明「立法會議員須於其仼期開始後盡快作出立法會誓言」。這並沒有說明宣誓應在何時或如 何完成,而亦沒有說明不能再宣誓。

(b) 因此,該釋法的這部份構成了對香港本地法例(而非《基本法》)的解釋或修改。 

(4) 該釋法的第 3 段:該段訂明若宣誓人作虛假宣誓,或者在宣誓之後 作出「違反」誓言「行為」的法律責任(宣誓人必須真誠信奉並嚴格遵守法定誓言。宣誓人作虛假宣誓或者在宣誓之後從事違反誓 行為的,依法承擔法律責任):

(a) 但是,誰才可以決定宣誓人是否「真誠信奉」誓言呢?到底「在宣誓之後從事違反誓言行為」是否意味思想表達亦可能成為「違反誓言」?「違反誓言」是什麼意思?什麼人可以決定有 違反的行為?這些問題都沒有清楚的答案。再者,「法律責任 」的意思也不清楚,而且第 3 段「依法」內所指的法律也不清 晰。

(b) 無論如何,以上事項均不是《基本法》第 104 條所涵蓋的範圍 ,第 104 條只處理(在目前情況下)立法會議員就職前須宣誓 的前提。到底任何人士有否違反誓言是香港法律的問題,卻不合法地被包括在該釋法中。 

18. 另一個引申的問題是有關該釋法是否具追溯效力(即適用於該釋法前的事件)。該的釋法並沒有提及它是否具追溯效力。可是,我們關注到有關的追溯效力可能已經隱含在是次的釋法中。在劉港榕訴入境事務處處長 (1999) 2 HKCFAR 300 一案中,判詞的第 72 段提到:

「是次的釋法,是對有關法例的解釋,可追溯至 1997 年 7 月 1 日當 《基本法》正式生效之時。有關的釋法宣布了有關的法律一直本該是如何。比較普通法中的司法決定宣告理論,詳見 Kleinwort Benson Ltd v Lincoln City Council [1998] 3 WLR 1095 at 1117 - 1119 and 1148. 」

19. 最後,我們注意到該釋法是連同一套所謂「說明」發佈的。14 該說明不是該釋法的一部分,亦無任何第 158 條賦予的法律地位。我們認為,該說明 只會令事情更加混亂及突顯人大常委會有關行為的政治動機。 

該釋法削弱司法獨立以及香港的自治

20. 無可否認,該釋法對於香港曾獲保證享有及其多年來賴以繁榮的基石 — 高度自治和司法獨立 — 構成了嚴重打擊。

21. 該釋法難以有任何法理依據,尤其是因為: 

(1) 有關的事項是可以由香港法院引用香港法律而獨自解決的。《基本法》第 104 條並不是涉及中央和香港關係的「排除條款」。有關宣誓的問題屬《宣誓及聲明條例》管轄的事項。

(2) 假如有議員違反誓言,立法會主席可按照《基本法》第 79(7)條賦予的權力,經立法會出席會議的議員三分之二通過後宣告該議員喪失立法會議員的資格。因此,《基本法》對相關事項早已有所規定。

(3) 《基本法》第 104 條的⫿眼容許「依法」宣誓,即是允許立法機關就宣誓所需的方法和形式作出定義。這說明香港在這一方面被予以 高度的自主權。 

(4) 廣為人知的是,這次釋法的事項已是一項司法覆核申請的主要爭議,而原訟法庭已於 2016 年 11 月 3 日審理此案。尤其是在該司法覆核申請中政府尋求的濟助的第一項為: 「聲明立法會主席並無權力重新監誓或容許重新宣誓。」這次人大常委會就正在進行中的法律訴訟的主題在案件等候判決期間作出的釋法行為,篡奪了法官根據香港法律自行審理案件的自主權,是對香港的司法獨立的嚴重的打擊。

22. 該釋法是前所未有的,與過往的四次釋法不同,因為:

(1) 它不是經終審法院或行政長官要求下作出的;

(2) 它是於香港法院就有關事宜聆訊以後,但在作出判決前發出的;

(3) 它是就「非排除條款」作出的解釋;

(4) 它的實際效果為解釋、修改及/或重寫本地法律,尤其是《宣誓及聲明條例》; 和

(5) 它的實際效果為在沒有經過規定程序的情況下修改《基本法》。 

23. 2016 年 11 月 2 日,香港大律師公會就(當時預期會發生的)釋法發出聲 明指出: 

「…[釋法] 將對香港特別行政區的獨立司法權和終審權帶來極大的衝 擊,亦會嚴重削弱港人以至國際間對「一國兩制、港人治港、高度 自治」的信心,實為百害而無一利。」15

24. 2016 年 11 月 7 日該釋法公佈後,香港大律師公會發出的聲明同樣地指出 :

「本會認為全國人大常委會在這極敏感時刻作出上述決定是極之不幸,難免削弱香港在國際間司法獨立的形象,動搖公眾對香港法治 的信心。」16

25. 法政匯思完全同意上述聲明(以及以往大律師公會以及律師會就人大常委會釋法權的聲明)。

26. 該釋法最令人震驚的地方就是,雖然它聲稱是針對第 104 條的解釋,但它實際上相當於解釋、修改或重寫《宣誓及聲明條例》,即一項香港本地法例,亦正正是令人高度深切關注該釋法的理由。如上所述,人大常委會沒有權力解釋本地法例;就任何固有的法律觀點而言,人大常委會作出任何 這種企圖都沒有法律效力。17 鑑於上文第 17 段所列的情況,嚴格按照法律而言,我們認為該釋法中那些超越《基本法》的解釋的釋義部分(幾乎是全部)是沒有法律效力, 且不具法律約束力。

27. 不幸的是,政治現實中是沒有什麼法律手段可以監察人大常委會。因此,如果人大常委會開始在某程度上以重寫本地法例的方式去「解釋」《基本法》的話,那這是人大常委會本質上為香港立法的模式的開始。 說這是結束香港單獨制度和自治的局面,也絕不誇張。

28. 最近幾天,某些評論者提出了為什麼應該支持釋法的論點。我們認為必須作出以下回應: 

(1) 由於人大常委會有一般性權力解釋《基本法》第 158 條,只要行使這些權力,便不會損害香港的法治或自主權:

行使權力的權利和行使權力的後果是不同的事情。在目前的情況下,人大常委會行使該權力,已實際上繞過了待決的司法程序和可自 主行使的香港立法酌情權。 該釋法還意味著人大常委會比單純解釋 第 104 條更進一步地去繼續就宣誓及聲明的事項作出立法規定。 這構成試圖行使人大常委會實際上並不具有的權力,這是明顯藐視法 治。 

(2) 該釋法最好在任何香港法院的判決之前進行,因為如果法院已有判 決,然後其與人大常委會相抵觸,這會更加不利:

無論該釋法是在香港法院對宣誓相關訴訟的裁決之前或之後進行,這仍會削弱香港法院的權威。 無論如何,該釋法在訴訟尚未裁決期間進行,會對法治和司法獨立造成更多的傷害。它所發放的訊息就是,在任何法律爭議中,有權力的人只願意接受一個結果(即有利於己的一個結果),而且即使爭議仍在審議爭論的過程中,法院也必須屈服。這就是不尊重法治的法律制度的特質。 

(3) 釋法對於闡明第 104 條如何適用於香港法律方面,可能不是壞事:

這個說法令我們驚愕。香港法律能夠而且應該由香港法院澄清,亦應該由香港立法機關制定。 即使該釋法確實「澄清」了香港法律的 適用範圍,當這是人大常委會不惜犧牲我們的法律、司法制度和高 度自治權而粗暴地一意孤行,那就絶不可能不是壞事。 

(4) 使用粗言穢語、種族歧視用語及/或宣揚香港獨立的政治人物不應在議會中佔一席位,而該釋法能處理這些人物是好事: 

法政匯思並不支持在正式的政治措辭中使用不當語言,而且我們承認《基本法》 列明香港是中國不可分離的部分。但《基本法》同時亦列明一些基本權利,例如被選舉權 (第 26 條) 及言論自由 (第 27 條)。法庭案例亦清楚指出該等基本權利必須給予最佳效果。18 該釋法侵蝕了我們司法制度這基本的宗旨。 即使部分公眾或認為個別政 客令人厭惡,如人大常委會對《基本法》作出所謂「解釋」乃是為 達到其政治目的,那麼《基本法》所保障的基本公民及商業權利將 會凶多吉少。

《基本法》第 104 條亦適用於行政長官、主要官員、行政會議成員、立 法會議員、各級法院法官和其他司法人員。 

29. 我們必須注意,第 104 條並不只適用於立法會議員,亦適用於行政長官、主要官員行政會議成員、各級法院法官和其他司法人員。法政匯思尤其關注該釋法對司法機構的影響,因這正潛在地影響司法機構日後的獨立 性。 

30. 法政匯思關注到該釋法可能將為日後潛在的濫權打開方便之門。如按照該 釋法的說法,任何在香港建制架構內的高層人員,以及各級法官,都可以被取消資格—或更廣義地 — 被「免掉」職務。 

總結

31. 法政匯思對人大常委會該釋法表示極度遺憾,並對其舉措予以最強烈的譴責。我們無法接受其這次為達到政治目的而公然地濫用第158 條 。人大常委會毫無節制地行使其解釋權,將引起各方深切關注香港獲保證的高度自治、司法獨立,甚至法治,是否已蕩然無存。當這些香港賴以維持穩定及繁榮的基本宗旨遭受破壞,將對本地及國際的商業活動,以及投資者 對香港作為國際金融及商業中心的信心,帶來難以避免的負面影響。

 

The Progressive Lawyers Group's Submissions in relation to the Interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on 7 November 2016 

1. On 7 November 2016, the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress (“NPCSC”), in purported exercise of its powers under Article 158 of the Basic Law, issued an interpretation in relation to Article 104 of the Basic Law (“the Interpretation”). 

2. This is the fifth time the NPCSC has interpreted the Basic Law. In summary, and as further explained below, the Progressive Lawyers Group’s submissions on the Interpretation are: 

(1) The NPCSC does have a freestanding power to interpret the Basic Law. But it does not have the power to: (i) interpret Hong Kong domestic law; or (ii) amend either the Basic Law or Hong Kong domestic law.

(2) The Interpretation has gone well beyond an interpretation of the Basic Law. It has sought instead to prescribe matters which are not in the Basic Law and which are within the remit of Hong Kong domestic law. As a matter of legal principle, we consider that such parts of the Interpretation are not legally binding. Unfortunately, as a matter of political reality, NPCSC cannot be held to account for its act of overreach. 

(3) The Interpretation has deeply damaged the rule of law and Hong Kong’s autonomy by: (i) in effect making Hong Kong domestic law; and (ii) being issued while a Hong Kong court case covering the same subject matter was pending. It creates an enormously disturbing precedent and bodes ill for the future of One Country Two Systems. 

The law on, and previous use of, Article 158 of the Basic Law

3. According to the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (“CFA”), the NPCSC has a freestanding and plenary power of interpretation of the Basic Law pursuant to Article 67(4) of the PRC Constitution and Article 158(1) of the Basic Law: Lau Kong Yung v Director of Immigration (1999) 2 HKCFAR 300. 

4. However, the Basic Law also states that Hong Kong shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and be vested with independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. Article 158(2) confers power upon the Hong Kong courts to interpret on their own, in adjudicating cases, the provisions of the Basic Law which are within the limits of the autonomy of the Hong Kong SAR.

5. It is clear from Article 158(3) that as long as the article in question is not one concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People’s Government or concerning the relationship between the Central Authorities and the Region (i.e. it is not an “excluded provision”), the Hong Kong courts have the power to interpret the provision on their own. 

6. It is also important to note that the NPCSC’s power only covers interpreting provisions of the Basic Law itself. This power does not extend to interpretation of local Hong Kong statutes. This is absolutely clear from the wording of Article 158(1): “The power of interpretation of this Law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress.” 

7. Thus, to the extent that any NPCSC interpretation contains text which goes beyond specifically interpreting a Basic Law provision, such parts of an NPCSC interpretation would fall outside the framework of Article 158. Professor Albert Chen, a Basic Law Committee member, has said that in such circumstances, “Hong Kong courts can legitimately claim that [such parts of an NPCSC Interpretation] have no legal force in Hong Kong (even if they purport to apply to Hong Kong by their express terms or by necessary implication)”.1  

8. Historically, there have been four NPCSC interpretations: 

(1) The interpretation issued by the NPCSC in June 1999 on Articles 22(4) and 24(2)(3) of the Basic Law, which effectively reversed the CFA's judgment in Ng Ka Ling v Director of Immigration (1999) 2 HKCFAR 4.2 This interpretation was issued at the request of the Chief Executive (after the CFA had ruled against the Government). 

(2) In April 2004, the NPCSC issued an interpretation on Article 7 of Annex I and Article III of Annex II of the Basic Law, in essence adding two extra steps to the procedure for electoral reform. 3 This interpretation was issued on the NPCSCs own initiative. 

(3) In April 2005, the NPCSC issued a third interpretation, on Article 53(2) of the Basic Law. This was issued at the request of the Chief Executive, and dealt with the term of a new Chief Executive elected to replace an outgoing Chief Executive whose term ended prematurely.4

(4) In August 2011, the NPCSC issued an interpretation on Articles 13(1) and 19 of the Basic Law, pursuant to a request of the CFA. The interpretation was issued after the CFA handed down its provisional judgment in Democratic Republic of the Congo v FG Hemisphere Associates LLC (2011) 14 HKCFAR 95. 5
9. These previous interpretations issued by the NPCSC (or at least, those issued in 1999, 2004, and 2005) caused considerable damage to judicial autonomy and rule of law in Hong Kong. Each interpretation resulted in enormous controversy and widespread concern in Hong Kong society. 

10. The Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong have in the past repeatedly warned against the wanton and unrestrained use of the power of interpretation, because it would undermine the authoritative status of the judiciary and damage the rule of law in Hong Kong:

(1) In January 2000, the Bar Chairman criticised the Government for refusing to confirm that it would not seek an NPCSC interpretation if it lost in the “flag burning” case: 6

“The effect of such a refusal...was that there was a constant threat that any interpretation of the Basic Law by the CFA unacceptable to the SAR Government would result in another application to the NPCSC...this was and still is a Damocles sword to our CFA. Confidence in our legal system and the independence of our Judiciary is bound to suffer.”7 

(2) In relation to the April 2005 interpretation (see paragraph 8(3) above), the Bar Association spoke out strongly against the Government’s request for an NPCSC interpretation even in the absence of any Hong Kong court ruling: 

“Not only will such request by the executive negate the separation of powers which underpins the system laid down in the Basic Law, it shows scant respect to the rule of law and will understandably cause alarm to people in Hong Kong as well as to informed observers in the international community.”

(3) Also in relation to the April 2005 interpretation, the Law Society said that: 

“The Basic Law is clear and an interpretation was not necessary and in case of doubt it would have been preferable for the matter to be resolved through the Hong Kong courts...interpretation, if used at all, must be used with caution and restraint, since fundamental principles of the rule of law such as due process, transparency, and reasoned judgments from an independent judiciary are essential elements in maintaining the rule of law.” 9 

(4) In May 2012, the Bar Association said that the Government should request an interpretation from the NPCSC only: “…as the very last resort”.10 

(5) In a press statement dated 10 October 2012, the Law Society stated that: 

“The independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong is deeply established, and the quality, integrity and credibility of our judges are well respected. Given the expressed concerns raised by the community over the effects of an interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPCSC on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law as Hong Kong’s core values, the Law Society of Hong Kong believes the Government should act cautiously when considering whether to seek an interpretation of any provisions of the Basic Law.”11 

11. The former Chief Justice, Andrew Li, has also emphasised that the NPCSC's power of interpretation, although certainly wide, should be exercised with a great deal of caution and restraint:

“...the Standing Committee's power to interpret should only be exercised in the most exceptional circumstances...The Standing Committee should refrain from exercising its power to override a court judgment in Hong Kong, especially one of the Court of Final Appeal. Although it would be legally valid and binding, such an interpretation would have an adverse effect on judicial independence in Hong Kong.” 12 

What did the Interpretation say? What are its legal consequences? 

12. The Interpretation arose from the controversy over the manner of taking the Legislative Council oath. The relevant part of Article 104 of the Basic Law (“Article 104”) provides: 

“When assuming office … members of the … Legislative Council … must, in accordance with law, swear to uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the Hong Kong People’s Republic of China and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.”

13. The full text of the Interpretation (in Chinese) has now been made public.13 (As of the time these submissions were prepared, there is no official English translation; the following analysis uses our own unofficial translation). 

14. The Interpretation was “freestanding”, i.e. it was issued by the NPCSC on its own initiative and not in response to a request by the Chief Executive or the Hong Kong courts. 

15. Regrettably, the Interpretation goes beyond an “interpretation” of Article 104. It amounts to introducing new legal requirements that are in fact the preserve of Hong Kong domestic law. In particular, it effectively adds new content to the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance (Cap. 11) (“OADO”). This is in conflict with Article 17 of the Basic Law, which states that the Hong Kong SAR shall be vested with legislative power. It violates a fundamental principle of One Country Two Systems that Hong Kong – not the Mainland – legislates for Hong Kong. 

16. Alternatively, the Interpretation is effectively an amendment of the Basic Law – in particular, adding new content to Article 104 – but bypassing all the amendment procedures prescribed in Article 159. 

17. Our commentary in relation to the specific content of the Interpretation is as follows: 

(1) Paragraph 2(2) of the Interpretation: it states that a person who takes an oath required under Article 104 must, inter alia, take an oath which includes swearing to “uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”, and the person must swear with “sincerity” (真誠), “solemnity” (莊重) and must utter those words “accurately” (準確), “completely” (完整) and with “solemnity” (莊重): 

(a) This is a clear demonstration of the Interpretation going well beyond interpreting the Basic Law and seeking to introduce new legal requirements that are in fact the preserve of Hong Kong domestic law. Article 104 only requires that an oath is taken “in accordance with law”. The meaning of this phrase was considered in Leung Kwok Hung v Legislative Council Secretariat (HCAL 112/2004, 6 October 2004) at paras 22-23: 

…the phrase ‘in accordance with law’ has a clear meaning. It means that a Legislative Councillor must take his oath in a manner and form that accords with the law of Hong Kong. … The law of Hong Kong includes its domestic law and this itself includes its statutory law. The relevant statutory law, the law governing the taking of oaths by Legislative Councillors and other high officials, is the [Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, Cap. 11].” 

(b) As recognised in Leung Kwok Hung, there is already Hong Kong domestic law which addresses the requirement under Article 104, namely, the OADO. To the extent that the Interpretation is seeking to impose specific requirements on how the oath is taken, this constitutes an interpretation not of the Basic Law, but of the OADO. This basically amounts to making new Hong Kong law on top of the OADO without going through Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

(2) Paragraph 2(3) of the Interpretation: it states that if a person declines to take an oath, then he would lose the qualification to take office (宣 誓人拒絕宣誓,即喪失就任該條所列相應公職的資格). Further, if the person taking the oath “intentionally” utters words different from the prescribed oath, or takes the oath in a matter which is “insincere” or “not solemn”, then that would amount to declining to take the oath, the effect of which is that the oath shall be declared invalid (宣誓人故 意宣讀與法定誓言不一致的誓言或者以任何不真誠、不莊重的方式宣 誓,也屬於拒絕宣誓,所作宣誓無效): 

(a) This is another clear instance of the Interpretation going beyond an interpretation of the Basic Law. These prescriptions cannot be found or even be implied from the text of Article 104.

(b) In reality, paragraph 2(3) of the Interpretation constitutes an explanation of the phrase “Any person who declines or neglects to take an oath…” found in section 21 of the OADO. Without wishing to be repetitive, we must emphasise again that the NPCSC’s powers do not extend to the interpretation of Hong Kong domestic legislation. Such interpretation is the exclusive preserve of the Hong Kong courts.

(3) Paragraph 2(4) of the Interpretation: it states, inter alia, that the oath must be taken before a person administrating the oath (監誓人) (referred to below as “the Administrator”); and that the Administrator shall not arrange for a re-taking of the oath should the oath be taken in a manner that is inconsistent with the Interpretation and the laws of the HKSAR (對不符合本解釋和香港特別行政區法律 規定的宣誓,應確定為無效宣誓,並不得重新安排宣誓):

(a) However, there is nothing in Article 104, the OADO, or the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Council that states that there shall be no re-taking of the oath. We also note that section 19 of the OADO only states that “a member of the Legislative Council shall, as soon as possible, after commencement of his term of office, take the Legislative Council Oath”. There is no suggestion of when and where this oath shall be taken, and also no suggestion that there cannot be a re-taking of the oath. 

(b) Thus, this part of the Interpretation again constitutes an interpretation or amendment of Hong Kong domestic legislation rather than the Basic Law. 

(4) Paragraph 3 of the Interpretation: it purports to describe certain legal consequences after one swears the oath and/or if one does “acts” which “contravene” the oath (宣誓人必須真誠信奉並嚴格遵守法定誓言。宣誓人作虛假宣誓或者在宣誓之後從事違反誓言行為的,依法承擔法律責任): 

(a) However, it is unclear who is to judge whether the oath-taker “sincerely believed” the oath. It is unclear whether “在宣誓之後 從事違反誓言行為” also includes the expression of thoughts which may somehow be considered as “contravening the oath” (違反誓言). It is unclear what is meant by “contravening the oath” and who is to judge whether there has been contravention. Furthermore, it is unclear what “legal consequences” (法律責任) are meant, as well as what “law” is being referred to when “in accordance with the law” (依法) is stated in paragraph 3.

(b) In any event, these are matters that do not fall within the ambit of Article 104, which only deals with the requirement of an oath being taken as a precondition for assuming office as (in the present instance) a legislator. The question of whether anyone can be said to have contravened an oath is a matter of Hong Kong domestic law – and yet it has been illegitimately included in the Interpretation. 

18. A further question arises as to whether the Interpretation has retrospective effect (i.e. it applies to events which occurred before the date of the Interpretation). The Interpretation makes no mention of whether it has retrospective effect. However, we note with concern that this may be potentially implied. As stated in paragraph 72 of Lau Kong Yung v Director of Immigration (1999) 2 HKCFAR 300: 

“The Interpretation, being an interpretation of the relevant provisions, dates from 1 July 1997 when the Basic Law came into effect. It declared what the law has always been. Compare the common law declaratory theory of judicial decisions, see Kleinwort Benson Ltd v Lincoln City Council [1998] 3 WLR 1095 at 1117 - 1119 and 1148.”

19. Lastly, we note that the Interpretation was issued together with a set of purported “explanations”. 14 These explanations are not part of the Interpretation and have no legal status under Article 158. In our opinion, they only serve to add further confusion and to highlight the politically motivated nature of the NPCSC’s actions

The Interpretation undermines the rule of law and Hong Kong's autonomy

20. The Interpretation comes as a severe blow to the high degree of autonomy and judicial independence that was guaranteed to Hong Kong and has been the cornerstone of its prosperity.

21. It is difficult to see any legal rationale for the Interpretation, particularly because: 

(1) The matter currently in question is one that can be resolved by the Hong Kong courts alone by applying the laws of Hong Kong. Article 104 is not an “excluded provision” concerning the relationship between Hong Kong and the Mainland. The question of oath taking is a matter that is already governed by the OADO. 

(2) If a Legislative Council member breaches an oath, the President of the Legislative Council has the power under Article 79(7) of the Basic Law to declare that he/she is no longer qualified for the office upon a vote of two-thirds of the members of the Legislative Council members present. Thus, the matter is one which the Basic Law has already provided for. 

(3) The wording of Article 104, in allowing for the oath to be taken “in accordance with law”, i.e. allowing for the legislature to define the requisite manner and form of taking the oath, signifies that a high degree of autonomy is given to Hong Kong in this respect. 

(4) As widely publicised, the matter is the subject of a judicial review application which has already been heard by the Court of First Instance on 3 November 2016. In particular, paragraph 1 of the relief sought in the impeding judicial review application seeks “A declaration that the President [of the Legislative Council] has no power to readminister or allow for re-administration.” The Interpretation, being issued pending judgment on an issue that is the subject matter of ongoing litigation, is a severe blow to the independence of the judiciary in that it usurps the autonomy enjoyed by judges in deciding the matter on their own in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong.

22. The Interpretation is unprecedented and is to be contrasted from the previous four interpretations of the Basic Law because:

(1) It is issued not pursuant to any request of the CFA or the Chief Executive;

(2) It is issued prior to any judgment being made by any Hong Kong court, but after a court hearing has already taken place;

(3) It is in relation to a “non-excluded” provision;

(4) It has the effect of interpreting, amending and/or re-writing local legislation, in particular, the OADO; and

(5) It has the effect of amending the Basic Law without going through the prescribed procedures.

23. On 2 November 2016, the Bar Association issued a statement which made it clear that the (then expected) Interpretation would be: 

“…a severe blow to the independence of the judiciary and the power of final adjudication of the Hong Kong Court. It will also seriously undermine the confidence of the Hong Kong people and the international community in the high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR under the principle of One Country, Two Systems. The irreparable harm it will do to Hong Kong far outweighs any purpose it could possibly achieve.”15

24. On 7 November 2016 (after the issuance of the Interpretation), the Bar Association stated in the same vein: 

“The Bar considers the timing of the making of the Interpretation at this highly sensitive moment of by the NPCSC is most unfortunate, in the perception of the international community in the authority and independence of the judiciary is liable to be undermined, as would public confidence in the rule of law in Hong Kong.” 16 

25. The Progressive Lawyers Group fully agrees with these statements (and also the previous statements from the Bar Association and the Law Society regarding the NPCSC’s power of interpretation). 

26. The most alarming feature of the Interpretation is that, while purporting to be an interpretation of Article 104, it effectively amounts to an interpretation, amendment or re-writing of the OADO, i.e. a local Hong Kong statute. This is cause for grave concern of the highest order. As mentioned above, the NPCSC has no right to interpret local legislation; on any proper view of the law, any attempts by the NPCSC to do so have no legal effect.17 In light of what is set out in paragraph 17 above, we consider that strictly as a matter of law, the parts of the Interpretation (which is almost all of it) which go beyond an interpretation of the Basic Law are of no legal effect and not legally binding. 

27. Unfortunately, the political reality is that there are few legal means to hold the NPCSC to account. Thus, if the NPCSC begins to “interpret” the Basic Law in a way which in effect re-writes local legislation, this may well be the start of a pattern whereby the NPCSC essentially legislates for Hong Kong. It is no exaggeration to say that that would spell the end of Hong Kong’s separate system and any semblance of autonomy

28. In recent days, certain commentators have offered arguments as to why the Interpretation should be supported. We consider it essential that they should be addressed: 

(1) Since the NPCSC has plenary power to make interpretations of the Basic Law under Article 158, the mere exercise of such powers would not harm Hong Kong’s rule of law or autonomy:

The right to exercise a power and the consequences in the exercise of such powers are different matters. In the present instance, the NPCSC’s exercise of its powers has effectively circumvented both pending judicial process and the autonomous exercise of Hong Kong legislative discretion. The Interpretation has also purported to go much further than merely interpreting Article 104 and has proceeded to make legislative prescriptions in relation to oaths and declarations. This constitutes an attempt at exercising powers that the NPCSC does not in fact have and is a clear flouting of the rule of law. 

2) It is preferable for the Interpretation to take place before any Hong Kong Court judgment, as it would be even more harmful if the Court rules and then is contradicted by the NPCSC: 

Whether the Interpretation takes place before or after the Hong Kong Court rules in pending oath-related litigation, it would still undercut the authority of the Hong Kong Court. If anything, for the Interpretation to take place while litigation is still pending does more harm to the rule of law and judicial independence. It sends a signal that those in power are only willing to accept one result (i.e. one in its favour) in any legal dispute, and that the courts must yield to that even if they are still in the process of considering the issues. This is the hallmark of a legal system that disrespects the rule of law. 

(3) To the extent that the Interpretation clarifies how Article 104 is to be applied in relation to Hong Kong laws, it may be no bad thing

We are flabbergasted by this suggestion. Hong Kong laws can and should be clarified by Hong Kong Courts, and should be made by the Hong Kong legislature. Even if the Interpretation does “clarify” the application of Hong Kong laws, this cannot be “no bad thing” when it comes at the cost of riding roughshod over our laws, judicial system and high degree of autonomy. 

4) Politicians who use foul, racist language and/or advocate Hong Kong independence have no place in the legislature, and it is good that the Interpretation deals with such individuals: 

The Progressive Lawyers Group does not support the use of inappropriate language in formal political discourse, and we accept that the Basic Law indicates that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. But the Basic Law also sets out fundamental rights such as the right to stand for election (Article 26) and freedom of expression (Article 27). Case law have made clear that such fundamental rights must be given maximum effect.18 The Interpretation undermines this fundamental tenet of our legal system. Even if a portion of the public may consider certain politicians to be repugnant, it bodes ill for the fundamental human and commercial rights guaranteed by the Basic Law if the NPCSC sees fit to act to purportedly “interpret” the Basic Law for political ends. 

Article 104 of the Basic Law also applies to the Chief Executive, principal officials, members of the Executive Council and of the Legislative Council, judges of the courts at all levels and other members of the judiciary

29. It should be noted that Article 104 is not limited to members of the Legislative Council, but also the Chief Executive, principal officials, members of the Executive Council, judges of the courts at all levels and other members of the judiciary. We are particularly concerned about the impact of this Interpretation on the judiciary, for it may potentially further affect the independence of the judiciary in the future.

30. The Progressive Lawyers Group is concerned that the Interpretation may open the way to potential future abuse. Arguably, any high level personnel within the Government structure of Hong Kong, and also judges at all levels, could be disqualified2016.11.08 PLG Submissions on NPCSC Interpretation - final English or – in loose terms – “removed” from their offices pursuant to this Interpretation.

Conclusion

31. The Progressive Lawyers Group expresses profound regret over the Interpretation and deplores the NPCSC’s actions in the strongest terms. This blatant and abusive use of Article 158 for political purposes is unacceptable. This unrestrained use by the NPCSC of its interpretation power creates grave concerns that Hong Kong is losing all guarantee for its high degree of autonomy, judicial independence, and ultimately the rule of law. An undermining of such fundamental tenets of Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity will inevitably have a negative impact on local and international business and investor confidence in Hong Kong as an international financial and commercial centre. 

Progressive Lawyers Group 8 November 2016

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1. Albert H Y Chen, “The Court of Final Appeals Ruling in the   'Illegal Migrant’ Children Case: Congressional Supremacy and Judicial Review”, in Johannes M M Chan et al (eds), Hong Kong's Constitutional Debate: Conflict over Interpretation (2000) 73 at 89.
2 www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/materials/1999_6_26.html
3 www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/materials/doc/2004_04_06_e.pdf
4 www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/materials/doc/2005_04_27_e.pdf
5 www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/materials/doc/2011_08_26_e.pdf
6 HKSAR v Ng Kung Siu (1999) 2 HKCFAR 442
7 “Rule of Law in Hong Kong”, 13 September 2001, at §13. Available at www.hkba.org/events-publication/submission-position-papers.
8 "Acting Chief Executive’s Request for NPCSC Interpretation of Article 53”, 14 April 2005, §5. Available at: www.hkba.org/events-publication/submission-position-papers.
9 Law Society press statement, 28 April 2005: www.hklawsoc.org.hk/pub_e/news/press/20050428.asp
10 “Bar's Position on the Procedure for Seeking an Interpretation of the Basic Law under Article 158(1) of the Basic Law”, 25 May 2012, §14. Available at: www.hkba.org/eventspublication/submission-position-papers.
11 http://www.hklawsoc.org.hk/pub_e/news/press/20121010.asp
12 Andrew Li, “Hong Kong’s judicial independence is here to stay”, 25 September 2015, South China Morning Post.
13 http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2016-11/07/c_1119862546.htm
14 http://www.news.mingpao.com/ins/instantnews/web_tc/article/20161107/s00001/1478487328
15 Available at http://www.hkba.org/events-publication/press-releases-coverage
16 Available at http://www.hkba.org/events-publication/press-releases-coverage
17 Director of Immigration v Chong Fung Yuen (2001) 4 HKCFAR 211, 223A-E; Mr Justice Bokhary, “The Rule of Law in Hong Kong: Fifteen Years After the Handover” (2012) HKLJ 373, 377; Albert H Y Chen, “The Court of Final Appeal's Ruling in the ‘Illegal Migrant’ Children Case: Congressional Supremacy and Judicial Review”, in Johannes M M Chan et al (eds), Hong Kong's Constitutional Debate: Conflict over Interpretation (2000) at pp.73-96.
18 See e.g. Ubamaka v Secretary for Security (2012) 15 HKCFAR 743, at para. 116.

 

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