Following is the transcript of the answers (English portion) given by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, at a media session held today (February 9) on the public consultation on prisoners' voting right:
Reporter: These options are still going to place a restriction on some prisoners' right to vote, are you worried that there will be another legal challenge ?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The HKSAR Government fully respects the decision made by the High Court at the end of last year. Even before we take forward a further round of hearing in the High Court before the end of February, we are already beginning the public consultation exercise.
The three options we have outlined today, we believe, are worthy of consideration by the Hong Kong community. Option One sets out the proposal that aside from those convicts who have committed offences against election legislation and anti-bribery legislation, all other convicts should have their right to vote restored. The second option basically sets out the possibility of restricting those convicts who are serving long-term sentences, for example 10 years or above. The third option sets out the possibility that for those prisoners who are serving longer-term sentences, for example 10 years or over, towards the end of their term of imprisonment, for example once their imprisonment drops to five years or below, they should have their right to vote restored. This will enable the prisoners concerned to have at least one opportunity to vote before they leave prisons. As far as the HKSAR Government is concerned, we have an entirely open mind. We believe that it is important for the Administration, the legislature and the community to explore and discuss these options. We also believe that these options can be considered and once new legislation is enacted, we have a firmer basis of compliance with the Basic Law and compliance with the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.
Reporter: The options. Is there any way that you could consider, instead of a length of period, say 10 years which you've suggested, couldn't you use as the marker the type of crime they've actually committed to make it more fair?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: There are actually some jurisdictions whereby the right to vote of prisoners is restricted on the basis of the crimes they have committed, for example treason or various embezzlement or anti-corruption offences. We believe that, in Hong Kong, if we are to consider the possibility of retaining a reasonable type of restrictions on the prisoners' right to vote, it will be easier and more objective for the courts to administer if the restriction is determined on the basis of duration of imprisonment. It is necessary for the court to have objective criteria for making such decisions.
Reporter: Would you be able to make it public the amount of money it's going to cost for the three options you are talking about - the polling arrangements, 'cos there should be some clear distinction between the amount it would cost for posting or bringing them to a polling station?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We believe that the financial implications of extending the voting right to prisoners will be rather limited. Every time we organise a District Council election or an election of the Legislative Council, we have ample provisions to finance the arrangements. So, we believe that since there are only several thousand prisoners and only a certain percentage have been registered as electors, the additional financial implications of organising additional polling stations and making associated arrangements will be bearable.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Monday, February 9, 2009