Abuse of judicial reviews and soft approach to security issues come under spotlight
Academics, lawyers and judges argue that despite the successes of the special administrative region’s legal system some aspects still require attention.
T hese e xper ts say their most pressing concern with the legal system is the abuse of judicial reviews (JRs) that has obstructed the city’s development.
Theoretically, these arrangements were established for individuals or institutions to challenge the decisions of public authorities. The reviews were seen as important “checks and balances” under the city’s constitutional system.
Legal aid is also granted to people who cannot afford proper legal counsel in such cases.
However, some recent JR cases baffled the public. One of the most famous concerned the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge — which had been delayed a number of times. A Tung Chung resident sought a JR against the environmental impact assessment in the early stages of the project. As a result, it was delayed two years incurring additional costs of HK$8.8 billion.
Indeed, most JR cases on public construction projects lead to suspension of works until the court can hand down its ruling.
There have been other recent examples of controversial JRs. In 2013, Television Broadcasts lodged a JR against the government’s decision to grant new free-to-air television licenses. The High Court rejected the application as it considered the decision to grant new licenses did not hurt anybody’s interests — except the private interests of TVB.
Other examples include a student activist’s attempt to challenge the nation’s top legislature’s decision on electoral reform in Hong Kong. It is generally understood the judiciary should not intervene in political matters — and certainly not at national level.
Legal heavyweights are also concerned about the problem. In a speech at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club in 2015, former Hong Kong Bar Association chairman and retired Court of Final Appeal j u d g e He n r y L i tt o n c o n - demned the “abuse” of the JR system in recent years.
He warned applicants that JRs are not supposed to challenge government policy or be abused. “The court is not a