An interpretation of the provisions in the Hong Kong national security law was adopted on Friday, further clarifying the original intent of the legislation and resolving problems arising from the application of the law.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) on Friday adopted an interpretation of Article 14 and Article 47 of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).
The interpretation was adopted at the 38th session of the 13th NPC. Lawmakers at the session deliberated a State Council proposal for giving the interpretation. The proposal was submitted in response to a report by the HKSAR chief executive to the central government.
Answering media questions on the interpretation, a leading official of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee said that there is a major disagreement in the Hong Kong society over whether foreign lawyers without local full qualifications can handle national security cases, and how the Hong Kong national security law is applied under such circumstances.
It is necessary and viable to give an interpretation of related provisions in the Hong Kong national security law, clarify their meanings, and define the means of and paths to solving related questions, said the official.
Further clarifying Article 14 of the Hong Kong national security law, the interpretation says that the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR assumes the statutory duties for safeguarding national security in the HKSAR, and has the power to make judgements and decisions on whether national security is involved. Information relating to the work of the committee shall not be subject to disclosure.
Decisions made by the committee shall not be amenable to judicial review, and shall have enforceable legal force, according to the interpretation.
No administrative, legislative or judicial institution, organization, or individual in the HKSAR shall interfere with the work of the committee. The decisions of the committee shall be respected and enforced, according to the interpretation.
Further clarifying Article 47, the interpretation says that, the courts of the HKSAR, when facing such questions in the adjudication of a case concerning offense endangering national security, as whether an act involves national security or whether the relevant evidence involves state secrets, shall request and obtain a certificate from the chief executive to certify the questions. The certificate shall be binding on the courts, according to the interpretation.
According to the interpretation, questions of whether foreign lawyers without local full qualifications in the HKSAR can serve as defense counsel or legal representative in cases concerning offense endangering national security belong to questions stipulated in Article 47, and shall obtain a certificate from the chief executive.
If the courts of the HKSAR fail to request and obtain a certificate from the chief executive to certify the questions, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR shall, in accordance with Article 14, perform its statutory duties to make related judgements and decisions on the circumstances and questions, according to the interpretation.
The interpretation has the same effect with the Hong Kong national security law, said the official of the Legislative Affairs Commission, adding that the interpretation is retroactive to the date of the law's enactment.
The NPC Standing Committee interpretation will help resolve major disputes in enforcing the Hong Kong national security law, and will have positive effects on Hong Kong residents' lawful and proper exercise of the right to the choice of lawyers, as well as on the HKSAR's lawful and proper exercise of its independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, said the official.
It will not undermine the HKSAR's high degree of autonomy, the official added.
'It is of great significance'
A spokesperson from the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR on Friday stressed the interpretation is of great significance to the complete and accurate implementation of the Hong Kong national security law.
The spokesperson pointed out that Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who the spokesperson said was an instigator of Hong Kong riots, is suspected of "colluding with foreign or overseas forces to endanger national security." There were widespread concerns in Hong Kong that the participation of overseas lawyers or barristers who were not fully qualified to practice in Hong Kong may bring risks to the fair hearing of national security cases, and to the accurate implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong.
In this regard, the chief executive of the HKSAR put forward suggestions on the interpretation of the national security law in Hong Kong. The NPC Standing Committee interpreted it according to law, and it conformed to the provisions of the Constitution and the national security law in Hong Kong, the spokesperson said.
This demonstrates the central authorities' firm determination to govern Hong Kong in accordance with the law, uphold the unity of the central authorities' overall governance power and guarantee a high degree of autonomy in the HKSAR, effectively safeguard the authority of the national security law in Hong Kong, and further consolidate the constitutional order of the HKSAR as defined in the Constitution and the HKSAR Basic Law, the spokesperson said.
HKSAR welcomes the interpretation
John Lee, chief executive of China's HKSAR, on Friday welcomed and thanked the Standing Committee of the NPC for the interpretation of provisions in the Hong Kong national security law.
Lee said the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR and the HKSAR government will fully implement the duties stipulated in the contents of the interpretation, in particular, on whether an overseas solicitor or barrister who is not qualified to practice generally in Hong Kong can participate in the handling of work in cases concerning national security.
Andrew Leung, president of the Legislative Council (LegCo) of the HKSAR, said that the interpretation of the Hong Kong national security law by the NPC Standing Committee is part of the constitutional order of the HKSAR under "One Country, Two Systems."
In a joint statement, the seventh-term LegCo members said that they welcome and support the interpretation by the NPC Standing Committee in accordance with the constitution and the power vested in the national security law, so as to clarify the legislative intent of relevant provisions of the Hong Kong national security law and assist the HKSAR in more fully and effectively implementing its legal system and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security.
The judiciary of the HKSAR said on Friday that it respects the lawful exercise of power by the NPC Standing Committee to make legally binding interpretations of Articles 14 and 47 of the Hong Kong national security law regarding the HKSAR's performance of its duties in safeguarding national security.
The judiciary will, as required by Article 3 of the Hong Kong national security law, continue to effectively prevent, suppress and impose punishment for any act or activity endangering national security in accordance with law, and will, in the exercise of its independent judicial power (including that of final adjudication) under the Basic Law, impartially perform its judicial functions and handle cases involving national security accordingly.
(With input from Xinhua)