【明報專訊】AS violent incidents are on the rise, now the focal centre of interest is whether the government should invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance. While the ordinance grants tremendous power to the chief executive to allow her to "stop violence and curb disorder", it would also deal a heavy blow to society if invoked.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance is a law that can be traced back to the colonial era. It was enacted by the British colonial government following the mass strike by seamen in 1922. Half a century later, amid the "1967 riots", the British colonial authorities invoked the related regulations to "maintain stability" in society. In early 1997, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress decided that the related regulations were not in contradiction to the Basic Law, so they were preserved and became law in the SAR.
According to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, on any occasion which the chief executive in council may consider to be an occasion of emergency or public danger she may make any regulations whatsoever which she may consider desirable in the public interest. Such regulations may provide for arrest, detention, exclusion and deportation. When asked by journalists whether she would invoke the Emergency Regulation Ordinance to deal with the ongoing crisis, Carrie Lam said that the SAR government was still confident that it was able to handle the social discord on its own, and that the best basis for action was the rule of law. She said that the government had a responsibility to look into every Hong Kong law that could provide a legal means to stop violence and curb disorder, and that the principle of the rule of law would be upheld in everything it did. Hong Kong is in turmoil, and violent incidents are on the rise and have to be stopped as soon as possible. It is better for the SAR government to handle the matter itself than for the central government to deploy the People's Liberation Army. But in fact, invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance will also be a radical move. If such a "nuclear option" is taken, it will deal a very heavy blow to Hong Kong. Such an action must not be taken rashly.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance is an extremely draconian law. Like the colonial governor in the past, the chief executive can invoke the ordinance and, citing the need to safeguard the public interest, promulgate regulations to exercise censorship of publications and communications; exercise control of transportation by land, air or water as well as trading; take possession or control of any property or undertaking; require persons to do work or render services; suspend the operation of any enactment; and apprehend anyone until the chief executive in council announces the repeal of the regulations. Theoretically a ruler using all such power can become an absolute dictator.
No doubt the existence of a legal tool does not necessarily lead to the unlimited exercise of power. While the ordinance confers considerable power on the government, the final decision as to whether and how to invoke the ordinance rests with the chief executive. A member of the executive council has said that similar laws have been used in foreign countries to handle specific issues, and such experience can be referred to. A common example is the use of the ordinance to lengthen the time the police can hold a person in detention, while the authorities may also combat fake news on the internet by virtue of the ordinance. However, judging from the social atmosphere today, the ordinance might not be a panacea for the purpose of "stopping violence and curbing disorder".
明報社評 2019.08.28：實施《緊急法》乃下策 須評估香港能否承受
draconian：(of a law, punishment, etc.) extremely cruel and severe
promulgate：to announce a new law or system officially or publicly