Editorial : Fugitive law amendment beset by scepticism

【明報專訊】THE amendment bill for the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance is to be tabled to the Legislative Council for its first and second readings today (April 3). Despite numerous efforts made by the government to explain the amendment to the public, there are still many queries from the legal sector. Although the government stresses that the amendment is aimed at plugging legal loopholes and applies to all jurisdictions instead of being tailor-made for any particular place, some clauses in the bill are rather strange. By removing nine offenses that mainly involve white-collar crimes from the amendment, the government has not only hamstrung itself but also created a legal loophole. Moreover, the proposed standards against which to certify the documents and evidence supporting an extradition request also seem to have been lowered. The government's failure to offer any reasonable explanations for that has raised doubts about whether it is relaxing the relevant requirements. Supposedly, the government's purpose is to further enhance the law. Given the fact that the current bill is neither well-thought-out nor capable of dispelling doubts from the public, the government should consider prudently whether to push on with the amendment.

Over the past few days, there has been a chorus of opposition to the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. According to the police, more than five thousand people took to the streets on Sunday in protest at the amendment. The next day a tycoon filed for judicial review, stating his objection to the content of the bill. Then yesterday the Hong Kong Bar Association released a statement questioning the bill's clauses and its rationale, saying the assertions made by the government had been misleading.

Once the bill for amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance is passed, all governments in the world can request on a case-by-case basis the transfer of fugitives who have allegedly committed any of the serious criminal offenses within the scope of the new mechanism. Due to the differences between the legal systems of different regions and huge discrepancies in the rule of law, the government should adopt stricter criteria for handling transfer requests so as to protect the rights of the people involved. However, the government has made a significant change to its clauses regarding the standards against which to certify the supporting documents and evidence provided by jurisdictions requesting extraditions. That has raised concerns about whether the authorities intend to adopt a looser set of requirements. Current clauses of the ordinance stipulate that documents pertaining to an extradition must be certified by the judicial officers of the jurisdictions requesting extraditions. But the bill suggests that all documents of future extradition requests should be deemed to be duly authenticated and accepted by Hong Kong as long as they have been signed, certified, sealed, or otherwise authenticated, "in a way provided for by the prescribed arrangements concerned".

All court documents should be authenticated in a strict manner to ensure that the documents provided by the side requesting any extradition are true and accurate. The authentication requirements stated in the current Fugitive Offenders Ordinance are common in the world of common law. Generally speaking, the authentication requirements get only stricter rather than looser as time passes. But the new rules will mean that in the future, extradition documents will not have to be signed and authenticated by judges or judicial officers, which, obviously, means looser requirements. People facing extraditions may have weakened protection as a result. Michael Blanchflower, former senior assistant director of public prosecutions, describes this as a "fundamental change" to the extradition law. So far the government has given no detailed explanations for the change, merely saying that it is a "technical" amendment. The unclear and obscure manner in which the authorities have handled the matter and the vague explanations they have offered will only compound public doubts.

明報社評2019.04.03:修逃犯例疑惑重重 政府說辭未能服眾






beset : to affect sb/sth in an unpleasant or harmful way

well-thought-out : carefully planned

a chorus of sth : the sound of a lot of people expressing approval or disapproval at the same time

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