Following is the transcript of the remarks by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, this (December 9) morning in response to media questions on the High Court's judgment yesterday regarding judicial review cases on prisoners' voting rights:
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: Over the years the elections in Hong Kong, including that of the Legislative Council, the District Councils and the Chief Executive, have been conducted in accordance with legislation passed by the legislature. Yesterday, the High Court made the decision concerning the voting rights of persons serving a term of imprisonment, under the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance in Hong Kong.
The Administration is now studying the decision. On the one hand, we are assessing how the Court's decision may be implemented if we accept its judgment. We are applying to the Court for a suspension of implementation, so that in the months ahead if there were by-elections to take place, we could conduct such elections in accordance with existing legislation. On the other hand, we are also studying how the Court's decision could be implemented. The Court said yesterday that it would be up to the legislature and the executive to draw a new line on whether and how the voting rights of prisoners could be restricted in a reasonable fashion. If we were to proceed down that path, then we would need to conduct public consultation. We would also need to discuss that with the legislature.
It will take us some time to complete our submissions to the Court on suspension of implementation of the decision. Depending on how the Court makes its final decision on that matter, we will determine the way forward. In the meantime, I would like to emphasise that the election held in September this year for the fourth-term Legislative Council remains legal and valid.
Reporter: So will you seek a suspension of the ruling...?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We will apply to the Court for a temporary suspension of the implementation of this decision. It is because it will take us time to confer with the legislature and to consult the public on the way forward. The Court said yesterday that the voting right of prisoners should be respected under the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. However, the Court also said that what would constitute reasonable restrictions would be a matter for the legislature and the executive to determine. So, on that particular issue, we will need time to assess the implications of any amendment legislation and it would take time for this community to come to a consensus on the way forward.
Reporter: In the judgment, the judge asked both parties to come back in 14 days to discuss how this one could be implemented. So, you are now saying you don't intend to come back in 14 days?... Secondly, Justice Hartmann... said suspended in the first time, it is really for a period of time, it is meant to be an extraordinary act, but this seems to becoming an ordinary act?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I would say that we would act in accordance with the Court's directive. We will make our submissions within 14 days on temporary relief to be granted. We will put our case. And since this is still sub judice, I will limit my public comment to this extent and no more. We will let the Court decide, and we will respect their judgment of course. In the meantime, I will only emphasise that in the case of this particular decision, the Court itself had said that what would constitute reasonable restrictions regarding prisoners' right to vote would be a matter for the legislature and the executive to determine. So the Court itself recognises that a new line needs to be drawn.
Reporter: My question with the suspension. The idea of suspending a decision, that's not normal Common Law. It's meant to be an extraordinary circumstance. So what about this circumstance rises to the level of such extraordinariness that you... the honourable judge suspends his rule?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: It is because the Court itself has stated that any new line on what would constitute reasonable restrictions would be for the legislature and the executive to determine, and therefore we need a particular period of time within which to complete that exercise. But as I said, this is a matter which we intend to put to the Court, and for now I would restrict my public comment to this extent.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Tuesday, December 9, 2008