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HK expedites process of decolonizing legal words

By Atlas Shao in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-23 09:37

Hong Kong has accelerated efforts to shake off influences from the colonial era as the city's legislature on Wednesday began deliberating a bill aimed at altering obsolete legal wordings like "crown" or "governor".

The move is a response to the long-standing call for decolonization in legal and other sectors.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government introduced the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 to the legislature on Wednesday for its first and second readings after the bill was published in the government gazette on May 10.

Lawmakers adjourned debate on the bill's second reading for further review as a customary practice.

The bill aims to produce a package of amendments and adaptations to in-force laws, especially provisions and wordings that fail to reflect the HKSAR's constitutional status.

The alterations cover technical amendments to terms and wordings left from the colonial era, such as "Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs or successors", "governor", "crown", "government of the United Kingdom" and "Secretary of State".

A total of 73 laws, including the Immigration Ordinance and the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, will be amended to ensure that their contents are consistent with the Basic Law and with the constitutional status of Hong Kong.

The bill also proposes amendments that are minor, technical and non-controversial, but are useful in improving the relevant legislation. These proposals will affect about 32 ordinances and subsidiary legislations.

It would help to keep the laws up-to-date and commensurate with the SAR's status as a modern society governed by the rule of law under the constitutional framework of "one country, two systems", a Justice Department spokesperson said.

The Law Reform Commission Secretariat began a systematic review of Hong Kong's statutory laws in 2022 to examine whether laws that were in force before July 1, 1997 — when the city returned to the motherland — are consistent with the Basic Law and Hong Kong's status as a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, and properly reflect the policy intent of government departments.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice briefed the LegCo Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services on the major legislative proposals to be included in the bill. The SAR government has also consulted stakeholders about the proposed changes and has not received any objections from them, the department said.

Accelerating Hong Kong's decolonization process has been a perennial call for people concerning the city.

On Constitution Day in 2022, which falls on Dec 4, Luo Huining, then director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, said completely shaking off the influence of the colonial era is a precondition for further enhancing local people's understanding of the Constitution.

Senior counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah told China Daily on Wednesday that the amendment will be a continuous process.

"Some revisions have been made since Hong Kong's return to the motherland, but there are still quite a few parts that have not been properly revised," Tong said.

The veteran lawyer explained that revising laws takes time as the work is not only about changing some words. The context and background also need to be considered to make the amendments more appropriate, he said.

He thinks that there are still many ordinances that need to be revised but are not included in the bill this time, and therefore more such amendments will be introduced.

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun described the bill as a belated amendment. "But late is better than never," she added.

Leung, a renowned legal scholar, said the continuous existence of outdated words such as "Governor of Hong Kong" and "Her Majesty the Queen" in laws may leave the public incorrect impressions, and she believes the bill is a significant step in the right direction.

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