Hong Kong's new justice secretary said today the rule of law in the city has not been compromised, after a string of cases raised fears the legal system is under threat from Beijing. Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland as part of the "one country, two systems" deal made when colonial power Britain handed it back to China in 1997. Those rights include an independent British-style judiciary, viewed as one of the bedrocks of Hong Kong's identity and a key factor differentiating it from mainland China. But a recent ruling by Beijing approving a plan to bring parts of a Hong Kong high-speed rail terminus, linking the city with the southern mainland, under Chinese national law prompted outrage among some leading lawyers. They argue it has no legal basis and goes against Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The city's pro-Beijing government has backed the plan and it is likely to be voted through by the legislature, which is only partially elected and weighted towards the establishment. Last summer Hong Kong's government successfully sought to overturn non-custodial sentences against pro-democracy activists, leading to them being jailed in August. Concerns were also raised in 2015, when a special "interpretation" of the Basic Law by Beijing led to the ousting from parliament of six publicly elected pro- independence and pro-democracy lawmakers who protested while taking their oaths of office. "Some suggest that the rule of law in Hong Kong is under threat," justice secretary Teresa Cheng told guests at the ceremonial opening of the legal year today. "If it means that it is being tested I have no qualms with such suggestions.
But, with respect, I cannot agree with suggestions that our rule of law is in any way compromised." She argued that the Basic Law was "open to different interpretations" and that some policies may require new laws to be enacted. Cheng herself has had a turbulent start to her new role after allegations that some parts of her home were built illegally, an accusation that has dogged a number of leading politicians in space-starved Hong Kong. Also speaking at the ceremony, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said courts and judges must not be affected by political or other biases. The city's common law system is "vital to the continuing success of Hong Kong" for both business and the community, Ma added. "This is a system that has been regarded as being appropriate for our community," he said.
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