Speech for Opening of Legal Year 2001
The Honourable Chief Justice,
the Secretary for Justice, the President of the Law Society, Honourable
Judges, Distinguished Guests and members of the legal profession,
ladies and gentlemen:-
The year 2000, like the year before, continued
to be occupied, from a lawyer's point of view, by controversies
involving fundamental Constitutional and Rule of Law issues. The
Secretary for Justice has rightly said that in the infancy of
the SAR, it was inevitable that there might be problems which
needed to be worked out under the new constitutional order. I
agree. But what lies at the heart of these controversies, is the
approach to these problems which the SAR as a whole should adopt.
The Basic Law is our mini-constitution.
It clearly sets out the fundamental freedoms and rights of the
people of Hong Kong. It also delineates the bare-bone structure
of our political, judicial and social systems. It has been said
that a constitution is a mirror reflecting the national soul:
that it must recognise and protect the values of a nation. Where,
as in our Basic Law, there is an express incorporation of international
values enshrined in international covenants such as the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international
labour conventions, our mirror reflects not simply the values
of our society but also universal principles of civilisation and
The People of Hong Kong, thus, have a legitimate
aspiration, even expectation, that the ideals of the grand concept
of One Country, Two Systems will be realized; that their constitutional
freedoms and rights will be guaranteed and protected; that Rule
of Law will continue to prevail.
This aspiration or expectation should never be
mistaken as a symbol of destabilisation or source of conflict
of our society. Quite the contrary, it is the constitutional duty
of the SAR Government to fulfil such aspiration or expectation.
Where a constitutional issue which directly concerns
the fundamental right or freedom of the people has arisen, nothing
will divide or even polarize a society more than if the government
is to adopt a defensive mentality in any rational debate. No man
is infallible and no government is beyond reproach. But in any
rational debate on constitutional issues, there are no real protagonists.
People have a right to express their aspirations or concerns where
their fundamental rights and freedoms are threatened. People who
speak out are not enemies of the state. There is thus no need
for a government to seek to justify its actions, or to orchestrate
or rally support. Still less to seek to alienate or even stigmatize
certain sections of the community. Such conduct is neither convincing
Rather, the role of a responsible government,
as a leader of the community it serves, is to analyze and explain
to the people the important Constitutional or Rule of Law principles
and values involved in order to stimulate a calm and rational
debate in the resolution of the Constitutional or Rule of Law
The role of a responsible lawyer, on the other
hand, as a professional learned in the law, is to contribute constructively
towards the resolution of Constitutional or Rule of Law issues
by offering his expertise in the law and explaining to the people
the importance of the Constitutional or Rule of Law principles
and values involved. I used the word "lawyer" advisedly.
For I make no distinction between Judges, Barristers or Solicitors.
I call on the legal community as a whole not to shrink from their
collective responsibility towards the society we serve.
The public cannot make a decision as to what
they want unless they are properly informed. The support of a
misinformed public is meaningless. For example, how much value
can one attach to the support of a school choir in the recent
Public Order debate, if the children are not explained that if
they sing at a peaceful but unlawful public assembly, they face
the threat of a lengthy imprisonment.
The Bar considers that at this vital period
of infancy, the SAR needs particular nurture and attention in
the form of more well trained constitutional lawyers. Of the two
universities where law courses are run, there is only one Chair
for Public Law. Even then, Professor Yash Ghai of the University
of Hong Kong is nowadays hardly ever in Hong Kong. Worst still,
there is a real threat that his Chair might not even continue
after the present contract expires.
This is woefully inadequate for a World Class
City like Hong Kong. We are an advanced and affluent society.
Surely we can afford a more permanent Chair in Constitutional
Law in each of the two Universities where lawyers are trained.
We call on the SAR Government and the community at large to contribute
towards the setting up of these Chairs.
The Bar has very limited resources; but we are
prepared to do what we can to assist in this respect. Meanwhile,
the Bar will set up a prize in Constitutional Law in order to
stimulate interest of law students in this very important area
of the law.
My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, we are a matured
community. The time has come for us to take a serious look at
our constitutional environment and work with undivided efforts
towards the realization of the grand concept of One Country, Two
Systems in the new year to come.
Ronny K.W. Tong, S.C.
Dated this 8th day of January 2001.