Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Photo: HK Govt
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Photo: HK Govt

There should be a special place in hell for those who betray others. Betrayal carries a moral repugnance and odium that remove the betrayer outside the pale of human decency.

Implicit in betrayal is the prior existence of a relationship of trust.

Trusted to represent the people of Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had hardly been in office long enough to wash her hair before she committed an act of fundamental betrayal.

Leave aside that she chose to criticize the Bar Council on a legal issue, something about which she is ill-qualified to speak. The stark reality is that in one statement she has revealed what many suspected but were loathe to give credit to: She is a Communist at heart.

You do not have to be a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. What counts is your state of mind.

Responding to concerns articulated by the Hong Kong Bar Council about the legitimacy of permitting part of Hong Kong to be subject to People’s Republic of China laws, she said:

If you ask me, it shows the elitist mentality or double standards held by some of the lawyers in Hong Kong. They think Hong Kong’s legal system is paramount while the legal system of the mainland – a big country with a population of 1.3 billion – is not right.

To describe this as intellectually dishonest would be a mistake; that would require an intellect.

Hong Kong’s legal system is the envy of Southeast Asia and held in the highest international repute. As a common-law-based system, it shares judicial principles and philosophy with all the common-law jurisdictions in the world.

If I thought, for one minute, that she had the capacity to appreciate it, I would commend Lam to read The Rule of Law, a book by Thomas Bingham, Baron Bingham of Cornhill. That she lacks so basic a faculty is evidenced by her fatuous comment.

The individual charged with upholding the “one country, two systems” principle has drowned the two-systems baby in the one-country bathwater.

How could anyone in her right mind imagine that any reputable Hong Kong lawyer would not believe that Hong Kong’s legal system is infinitely superior to what passes for a legal system in mainland China? That is not elitist, it is fact.

Does size matter?

To comprehend the depth of her ignorance, one need look no further than Lam’s criterion for a quality legal system, that is, a big country with a population of 1.3 billion.

Of one thing she is correct, save that she got the wrong end of the stick. There are two standards: the Hong Kong common law and what passes for a legal system in the PRC.

By definition, the PRC legal system is a set of nebulous rules and regulations framed to ensure the primacy of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its autocratic set of rulers.

Even to describe the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) as the top judicial body is a misdescription. The members of that committee are neither judges nor lawyers. They are the top officials of the CPC.

The NPCSC has the power, as its members put it so euphemistically, to “reinterpret” Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The highest court in Hong Kong is the Court of Final Appeal, which is manned by the finest judicial minds in the city. Either that court or the Hong Kong government can request a “reinterpretation” by the NPCSC. But this “reinterpretation” is an administrative, not a judicial, function.

And if, as happened with the Legislative Council oath-taking process, the NPCSC wishes to demonstrate the iron fist inside the velvet glove, it can simply override the Two Systems and deliver an “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s laws that suits its primary purpose of ensuring the primacy of the CPC.

It was only in late September that Carrie Lam was exhorting people to speak up in support of Hong Kong. Sadly, she appears incapable of carrying this idea for more than three months. As the chief executive, the least one might have expected of her is to trumpet the jewel in Hong Kong’s crown, its legal system.

Alas, no. Hong Kong is a very small place with a population of about 8 million, which by her definition should compel its lawyers to recognize the inferiority of its legal system in comparison to the impenetrable cobweb of ambiguously drafted draconian rules and regulations administered by Communist Party officials staffing the various law courts in that large country of 1.3 billion people.

Or as the old tailoring joke put it, never mind the quality, feel the width.

Carrie Lam subscribes to the fundamental tenet of the Communist Party of China: Might is right.

Shame on you for betraying the people of Hong Kong.

Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

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