Barred HK lawmakers to fight court's decision

Duo to apply for a court order to stop the government from declaring their seats vacant

In a bid to stop the government from kicking them out of the legislature, two disqualified lawmakers said they would be applying for a court order to stop the government from declaring their seats vacant.

Mr Sixtus Leung, 30, and Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25, will also be appealing against the judgment of Justice Thomas Au Hing Cheung, who ruled on Tuesday that the pair should be disqualified from the legislature for failing to take their oaths "faithfully and truthfully" last month.

The judgment, which is in line with a controversial Beijing ruling last week stating that "those who declare Hong Kong independence" have no right to run for the legislature, also bars the two from retaking their oaths.

If the court grants the injunction to stop the government from declaring their seats in the Legislative Council (Legco) vacant, the government may not be able to hold a by-election to fill the two seats until the appeal is over, said political analyst Willy Lam.

Noting how some law experts have said the appeal could take up to two years, Dr Lam said it is not normal for Legco to function with two seats vacant, although he does not think it will affect the veto power of the pro-democracy camp to overturn government decisions.

At a swearing-in ceremony on Oct 12, the two barred lawmakers from Youngspiration party had used words insulting China and displayed a banner that read "Hong Kong is not China". Their oaths were invalidated and the Legco president said they could retake their oaths. The government then sought a judicial review to challenge the president's decision to let the pair retake their oaths.

Although Justice Au said in his 56-page judgment that the court would have reached the same conclusion "with or without (Beijing's) interpretation", Beijing's move has dealt a massive blow to Hong Kong's judicial independence, analysts said.

Beijing's interpretation of the city's Basic Law, or mini-Constitution, before the local court's ruling yesterday, has been seen by many Hong Kongers as undermining the city's judicial system and eroding its autonomy, leading to large street protests in the city last week.

Speaking to reporters outside the High Court on Tuesday night, Mr Leung said elections are "meaningless as the result can simply be overturned by the government". He has decided to appeal against the judgment to prevent the government from running an "unjust" by-election, he added.

Although Justice Au said in his 56-page judgment that the court would have reached the same conclusion "with or without (Beijing's) interpretation", Beijing's move has dealt a massive blow to Hong Kong's judicial independence, analysts said. In interpreting the content of Hong Kong's law, it will, to some extent, shake the confidence of foreign investors in the city, said political analyst Johnny Lau.

Dr Lam said what is crucial now is whether the government will challenge other lawmakers' oaths, after a senior official from Beijing's representative office in the city said last week that up to 15 Legco members had given insincere oaths.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen told reporters yesterday that the government is still studying the judgment and will decide "as soon as possible" whether to take action against the other lawmakers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Barred HK lawmakers to fight court's decision'. Print Edition | Subscribe