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Hong Kong’s top judges to examine lawmaker freedoms in Legislative Council, after allowing ex-member ‘Long Hair’ to challenge contempt charge

Brian Wong
·2 min read

A former opposition lawmaker charged with contempt for allegedly disrupting a Legislative Council meeting can appeal to Hong Kong’s highest court to terminate the criminal proceedings, after three top judges agreed to examine the extent of immunity enjoyed by members in the legislature.

The Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday gave “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung one last chance to make his case for the prosecution to be struck down. The criminal proceedings were launched after he snatched a folder from a government official during a Legco meeting on November 15, 2016.

The case raises the question of how far the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance protects lawmakers and their freedoms of speech and debate when they disturb meetings in the legislature. Its outcome will have a bearing on at least three similar prosecutions.

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Former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: Felix Wong
Former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: Felix Wong

Leung, who is currently remanded in jail for allegedly breaking the national security law in another case, is believed to be the first member prosecuted under section 17c of the 1985 ordinance, which directly penalises interruptions of Legco sittings.

The 64-year-old previously pleaded not guilty to the contempt allegation, saying his actions were covered by privilege.

He did not need to stand trial, however, after a magistrate ruled in March 2018 that lawmakers were immune to the charge. What a Legco member said and did during sittings was protected by the 1985 ordinance unless it constituted an ordinary criminal offence, the magistrate added.

The Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s decision in June last year and restored Leung’s criminal proceedings, saying the offence must apply to lawmakers to ensure the legislature could properly discharge its constitutional functions.

Chief Judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor said the purpose of conferring privileges and immunity on lawmakers was not to put them above the law, but to ensure they could carry out their role without fear or any outside interference. Disorderly conduct that interrupted, or was likely to interrupt, Legco meetings was therefore not protected by privilege, he said.

He also held the section constitutional because it conformed to the doctrine of separation of powers by recognising that only the courts had judicial authority.

On Tuesday, the top court’s appeal committee, presided over by Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, and justices Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok, granted permission to Leung to challenge the lower appellate court’s reading of the law before a full panel of five judges. The hearing was scheduled for August 31.

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