英文

Coming Up for Air:'The law must serve the people, not the people the law'

【明報專訊】''In times of turmoil, read books.'' Sage advice (金玉良言) from the great Margaret Ng, a woman of many hats (職責) and accomplishments. Lawyer, journalist, legislator, book lover, Hong Konger.

On 16 April 2021 Margaret made what many consider to be a historic public statement, which she gave to the court before receiving a suspended prison sentence for her role in a 2019 public demonstration.

The demonstration at issue took place on 18 August 2019 and was attended by an estimated 1.7 million people. Instead of the stifling heat that greeted protesters of the several precedent-setting marches that had taken place earlier that summer, protesters this time were treated to a torrential downpour (傾盆大雨). But as the rain grew in intensity, so did the will and determination of the protesters. They marched, they chanted, they encouraged each other, and they were peaceful.

Organisers of the protest originally sought police permission for a march from Victoria Park to Central, the well-trodden (常用的) route of past protest marches, but the police said no. They insisted that the ''march'' stay within the confines of Victoria Park. It is unclear whether this decision by the police was meant to deter the public from attending the protest. If it was, then it did not achieve its intended objective. Hong Kongers showed up in droves (蜂擁而至) on that rainy Sunday afternoon, and Margaret was one of those individuals, one out of a million-plus other people.

Yet there was Margaret the other day, in court, before a judge, about to learn her fate for being part of a peaceful protest that occurred almost two years ago. Margaret took that occasion to speak out, in one of the most sacred of public forums, a court of law, giving a speech that it seemed she had waited her whole life to give.

It was a special speech in many respects. But what made it truly historic was that it echoed what was and still is on the minds of many Hong Kongers, here and afar, during a time when the simple act of speaking one's mind in public, especially on matters of politics and government, can land one in jail.

So when Margaret said to the court, ''The law should give protection to rights, not take them away,'' she was saying what many here also believe deep in their hearts and minds.

When Margaret said, ''the rule of law is not just about the law, but equally about governance [and so] [l]aws that protect rights tend to win the people's trust in their government, and trust facilitates good governance'', she was speaking on behalf of many Hong Kongers who have completely lost faith and trust in this government.

When Margaret said, ''There is no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly'' she was speaking on behalf of Hong Kongers who have seen these rights stripped from them as if they were tattered clothing.

And when Margaret said, ''When the people, in the last resort, had to give collective expression to their anguish and urge the government to respond, protected only by their expectation that the government will respect their rights, I must be prepared to stand with them, stand by them and stand up for them'', she spoke for the millions of Hong Kongers who like Margaret once took to the streets, then the only outlet left to them to have their voices heard, but more than that, because to do anything else would have been instant death — for oneself and for the community.

Like many great legal minds who have come before her, Margaret knows well that the law is only a means to an end, never an end in and of itself, because the law can be easily manipulated by those in power to serve their own selfish agendas. So to be a true servant of the law is really to be a servant to the people, a servant to all that is good and just in humankind. This Margaret encapsulated perfectly at the end of her statement to the court, when, borrowing from the late Sir Thomas More, she said, ''I stand the law's good servant but the people's first. For the law must serve the people, not the people the law.''

◆by Albert Wan

Albert is the co‑founder and proprietor of Bleak House Books, an English language bookstore in San Po Kong.

(Email: albert@bleakhousebooks.com.hk)

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