Published on 4 March 2021
Since its establishment in 1997, Hong Kong’s apex court, the Court of Final Appeal, has demonstrated a strong approach to constitutional review in human rights cases. It has struck down laws and executive acts found to be in violation of protected fundamental rights and freedoms. But in the wake of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, is that changing?
In HKSAR v. Lai Chee Ying (2021) HKCFA 3, the court ruled it had no jurisdiction to constitutionally review the controversial National Security Law (NSL), which created new national security offenses in Hong Kong punishable by up to life imprisonment, a high-level security committee, new law enforcement bodies, and new police powers including surveillance powers without judicial authorization. The court’s decision meant it could not consider whether any NSL provision was incompatible with Hong Kong’s constitution, known as the Basic Law, or the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (HKBOR), which implements the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has constitutional status.
The court could have taken several different approaches to the constitutional review of the NSL. It chose an option that, on its face, appeared conservative and weak. But in the current political environment, the court’s approach was a wise strategic decision: It preserved the court’s judicial independence, enabled the continued protection of fundamental rights by common law principles and fended off the risk of executive backlash... Click here to read the full text.