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Editorial﹕Alternative proposals for fugitive law amendment

【明報專訊】IN response to the controversy over the proposed amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, quite some alternative proposals have been suggested by people from various sectors of Hong Kong. Among them, the suggestion that "Hongkongers being tried in Hong Kong" has received the most attention. But the government regards that idea as unfeasible and insists its current plan is desirable. Society's uneasiness about the amendment plan boils down to Hong Kong people's lack of confidence in the judicial system of the mainland. It is a political problem that truly exists and must be faced squarely. While the idea of "Hongkongers being tried in Hong Kong" can address the confidence issue, there are indeed many obstacles to its implementation and further thoughts and discussions are needed to that end. However, if one says "Hongkongers being tried in Hong Kong" will bring about fundamental changes to the legal system, the current amendment proposed by the government also means altering the existing law and institutions significantly. The authorities should not rush the bill through hastily. What is more suitable is to deal with the murder case that happened in Taiwan first, delaying the issue of improving the system until the second stage.

Grenville Cross, former director of public prosecutions, said recently that the handover of fugitive offenders from Hong Kong to the mainland, Macao and Taiwan is impossible under the existing system and it is necessary to plug the loophole. Legally speaking, there is a point in Cross's remark. But viewing the issue from the political perspective, the problem of Hong Kong people's confidence that the amendment of Fugitive Offenders Ordinance touches on is also something that cannot be ignored. The issue of Hong Kong people's confidence and trust is political by nature. Cross said the mainland's judicial system has improved a lot in recent years and Hong Kong society does not need to be "over-worried". However, Hong Kong people's lack of confidence in the mainland's judicial system is a political reality that objectively exists. To a large extent, the judicial protection provided by "one country, two systems" and the Basic Law for Hong Kong people is also for the sake of dispelling Hong Kong people's doubt about and fear of possible extension of the mainland's judicial arm to Hong Kong. If the extradition law amendment fails to reflect public concern, it may affect the public's confidence in "one country, two systems".

Aiming to find a way out, some from the legal and political sectors have offered counter-proposals for the amendment plan. An example is the advocacy of the principle of "Hongkongers being tried in Hong Kong", which suggests that if a non-local fugitive absconds to Hong Kong after committing crimes in the mainland, the Chief Executive and the local courts can be authorised to decide whether to "surrender" that person to the mainland or not. But cases involving any Hongkongers should be heard by Hong Kong courts. However, citing the problem of the backdating of criminal charges and the impossibility to deal with the Taiwan murder case, the government has dismissed all the alternative proposals as unfeasible in practice.

Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee and University of Hong Kong law professor, recently published an article on the topic of fugitive transfer. The government said "Hongkongers being tried in Hong Kong" will bring about a fundamental change to the local legal system and is therefore undesirable. But according to Chen's study, the government's amendment proposal will in effect establish a new set of extradition mechanisms and bestow immense power on the Chief Executive concerning extradition matters. This will also be a fundamental change to existing laws. If the government thinks "Hongkongers being tried in Hong Kong" may set off a chain reaction and affect the whole situation, the proposed amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance will also involve major changes. If the government is to adhere to the same principle, it should not act hastily in this case either.

The authorities often insist that the purpose of amending the ordinance is to handle the Taiwan murder case and to plug legal loopholes. However, it is largely debatable whether the two things have to be done at the same time. If the government deals with the Taiwan murder case first and takes its time to study at length how to plug the loopholes later, it will be able to fulfil the need of serving justice immediately and sort out the problem of confidence and trust in a well-thought-out manner.

明報社評 2019.05.08﹕兩階段處理逃犯問題 替代方案可從長計議

修訂《逃犯條例》爭議,各界提出不少替代建議,其中以「港人港審」最受關注,惟政府認為並不可行,堅持現有方案可取。社會對修例不安,歸根結柢是港人對內地司法制度缺乏信心,這是真實存在的政治問題,必須正視。「港人港審」可以處理信心問題,具體實踐確有不少困難,需要從長計議;若說「港人港審」牽涉法律制度根本改變,政府的修例建議,亦是對現行法律和制度一次重大改動,不應倉卒行事,合適做法是先處理台灣殺人案,第二階段才處理完善制度問題。

前刑事檢控專員江樂士提到,現時香港不能移交逃犯到內地、澳門或台灣,漏洞需要堵塞。從法律角度而言,江樂士有一定道理,不過從政治角度出發,修訂《逃犯條例》所觸及的港人信心問題,同樣不能漠視。港人信心信任問題,本質就是政治問題。江樂士認為,近年內地司法有很大進步,香港社會毋須「過分憂慮」,然而港人對內地司法制度缺乏信任,乃是客觀存在的政治現實,一國兩制和《基本法》為港人所提供的司法保障,很大程度也是希望釋除港人對內地司法長臂伸延到香港的疑懼。法例修訂若不能反映民心關切,有可能影響公眾對一國兩制的信心。

為了尋找出路,有法律界和政界人士就修例提出反建議,諸如採用「港人港審」原則,倘若非本地人在內地犯事潛逃香港,可授權行政長官和本地法庭決定是否「交人」,如果涉及港人,則由香港法庭審理。不過政府認為,這些替代建議存在刑事追溯力問題,無法處理台灣殺人案,現實上並不可行。

最近基本法委員會委員、港大法律學院教授陳弘毅發表文章,闡述他對移交逃犯問題的研究。政府提到,「港人港審」是對本港法律制度一次重大改動,並不可取,然而陳弘毅的研究指出,政府的修例建議,實際是建立一套新的引渡移交機制,賦予行政長官很大的引渡權力,這同樣是對現行法律一個根本改變。倘若政府認為「港人港審」牽一髮動全身,修訂《逃犯條例》同樣亦涉重大改動,基於同一原則,政府亦不應倉卒行事。

當局常強調,修例目標是要處理台灣殺人案及堵塞法律漏洞,然而兩者是否一定要同時處理,大有商榷餘地。政府先處理台灣殺人案,之後再從長計議堵塞漏洞,既可解決即時伸張公義需要,亦可周全理順信心信任問題。

■Glossary

boil down to sth﹕If a problem boils down to A, A is the main reason for the problem.

abscond﹕to escape secretly without permission

bestow sth﹕to give sth such as power or an honour

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