Enhance the rule of law and continue constitutional reform

Updated: 2014-12-17 07:47

By Leung Kwok-leung(HK Edition)

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The clearance of road barricades in Admiralty last week and Causeway Bay on Monday went smoothly and was achieved without the use of force. The Hong Kong Police Force once again won hearty praise from local residents around the city for its professionalism and transparency in ending the illegal "Occupy Central" campaign.

Although the 79-day blockade of major public thoroughfares in Hong Kong and Kowloon has ended, the opposition camp has vowed to cause trouble in other ways in the days to come. The police force on Monday acknowledged the possibility that some protesters may try to disrupt Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve festivities, when hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate in shopping districts.

Troublemakers may make further attempts to block traffic in busy downtown areas one way or another, the police said, adding that the police force would remain on high alert throughout the holiday season to ensure public safety and social order.

To do so the 7,000-strong "Operation Solarpeak" task force has been deployed all over the city to thwart the efforts of "Occupy" in the past two and a half months. They are likely to remain on standby until New Year's Day. With such an exceptional police force we can rest assured it will be a wonderful festive season. From now on the government should focus on enhancing the rule of law while getting constitutional development back on the right track and recovering from the hardships inflicted by "Occupy". That is what Hong Kong society wants right now.

The "Occupy" movement was a serious challenge to Hong Kong's justice system. The worst damage it caused was to convince some that they could violate existing laws, whenever and however they wanted, in the name of democracy. It will be a daunting task for Hong Kong to right such wrongs. Nonetheless this must be achieved or our rule of law may fall into disrepair.

According to recent press reports many people are unhappy that "Occupy" leaders such as Jimmy Lai, who surrendered to the authorities last week, should be released without the need to post bail. Legislative Councilor Wong Kwok-kin suggested the police could have pressed charges as soon as "Occupy" leaders surrendered to the authorities but refused to post bail.

He believes the authorities should not have let the leading culprits walk free so easily. This kind of "gentle" treatment does nothing to deter "angry youth" trying to provoke police officers patrolling the streets at night recently, Wong added.

Legislative Councilor Chung Shu-kun questioned inequitable treatment meted out to arrested students and "Occupy" leaders. While students were only released after bail was posted, leading opposition figures, such Jimmy Lai, "pan-democrat" lawmakers and "Occupy" initiators were freed with no such conditions.

Chung was reiterating the sentiments of many Hong Kong people who feel the politicians are being shown preferential treatment. Chung said he would consider calling for a legislative inquiry into this questionable decision or demand follow-up action from the Security Panel.

Many members of the public are convinced that refusing to place bail after surrendering to the police does not alter the fact that these opposition figures were more than mere participants; they were instigators and advocates of illegal assembly. Their immediate release gives the impression that as prominent political figures, they are allowed to break the law without sanction - unlike ordinary citizens.

There may be some logic to these opinions. We must however recognize that there are different protocols for processing those arrested and those who surrender voluntarily, not to mention the pure logistical aspect of processing large numbers of detainees. The public place their trust in the authorities to handle all such cases, without favoritism, in line with existing law and standard procedure.

The judiciary, for its part, should assure the public it is fully capable of maintaining justice, regardless of who the guilty party may be. Failing to do so would undermine the rule of law in terms of public confidence. The rule of law is worthless if it fails to deter unlawful behavior.

Constitutional reform is one of the SAR government's top priorities. To keep it on the right track we must abandon the idea that "enhancing the rule of law may adversely affect efforts to build a consensus" because that is exactly why the masterminds of "Occupy" chose illegal means to achieve their goal of derailing constitutional reforms according to the Basic Law and the relevant decisions of the country's top legislature.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the SAR government may soon launch the second phase of public consultation on the implementation of universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election.

There are lessons the government needs to learn from the previous round of public consultation - increased transparency, public awareness and involvement.

The reform planning process must respond to public feedback at every step of the way in order to achieve consensus. To do so the authorities may consider two or three rounds of discussion on the details and refine the draft plan by taking into account all suggestions from the public.

It is also imperative that the government makes full use of all available media platforms. This will inform the public of the rationale behind the government's plan to achieve constitutional reform entirely within the constitutional framework - in accordance with the relevant laws.

The author is a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong.

(HK Edition 12/17/2014 page10)