First steps completed to revamp fugitive law

The first legislative step to amend the fugitive law was passed by the Legislative Council in relative calm, with the pro-democracy camp left with few openings to filibuster.

Phoenix Un

Thursday, April 04, 2019

The first legislative step to amend the fugitive law was passed by the Legislative Council in relative calm, with the pro-democracy camp left with few openings to filibuster.

The first and second readings of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 came yesterday afternoon. Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu introduced the bill for the second reading.

Legislator Kwok Ka-ki of the Civic Party made a quorum call before Lee started, and it took more than 10 minutes for enough legislators to return to the chamber for the meeting.

When able to start, Lee said the amendment aimed both to extradite a Hong Kong resident who allegedly committed murder in Taiwan and to "fill in the current loophole" of the SAR not having a long-term extradition arrangement with about 170 jurisdictions.

Lee said the current case-based mechanism to extradite fugitives to jurisdictions other than the mainland, Macau and Taiwan was unrealistic as the legislature was involved in open meetings on whether to transfer a suspect.

"The open meetings may alert the fugitive and even if we can detain the fugitive he may also challenge legally that his chance of being tried fairly has been harmed due to open discussions," Lee said.

He said the current law prohibited authorities from detaining a fugitive before the legislature had finished deliberating a case.

Under the proposed amendment, the legislature would no longer have the power of negative vetting.

Instead, the Department of Justice would make suggestions to the chief executive on whether a fugitive should be extradited. The chief executive would then issue a certificate to initiate the process followed by a judge deciding whether there was a case to answer.

If the judge ruled there was then the chief executive would make a final call whether to extradite a fugitive.

Legislator Ted Hui Chi-fung raised points of order twice, saying there was a judicial review currently under way against the amendment so the administration should consider withdrawing the bill.

But Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen stopped Hui, saying: "If you keep on raising irrelevant points of order I will consider your conduct grossly disorderly."

Legislators then started asking Lee to clarify details of the bill and whether it violated articles of the Basic Law. But Lee responded repeatedly that an answer would be provided in a bills committee meeting.

There were no clashes - a usual happening - before Leung adjourned the second reading and passed the bill to the house and bills committees.

During a chief executive question and answer session earlier, legislator Joseph Lee Kok-lun asked Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor whether she would extradite business people, but Lam said she was not the only decision maker.

"There are a lot of documents for me written by many people, including evidence from investigation departments and the DoJ," Lam said.

Legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick quoted mainland cases allegedly showing judicial unfairness and asked: "Do you think the Chinese 'justice under sunshine' is good enough?" But Lam refused to comment as she found the question inappropriate.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah took the same line on the question later.

Cheng said the threshold of a court to find a fugitive having a case to answer was not so low as claimed by the Bar Association in a statement on Tuesday.