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Safeguarding national security and engaging the whole community to counter terrorism will be Police’s work focus this year. At a press conference this afternoon, Commissioner of Police Siu Chak-yee said the force will continuously enhance intelligence gathering, and proactively strengthen public readiness and responsiveness towards home-grown terrorism and self-radicalised acts through different media and activities. He encouraged the public to make reports to Police, hoping that the whole community will counter terrorism. Mr Siu also noted that as at January 25, Police arrested a total of 162 people for committing crimes related to the National Security Law and more than 100 people have been charged. As regards the overall situation, the number of crimes reported in 2021 was 64,428 cases, 1.9% more than in the previous year. There were 9,587 violent crime cases, a rise of 2.1% compared with 2020. The overall detection rate in 2021 was 38.5%, with a slight increase of 0.7 percentage points when compared with 2020. Overall crimes registered an increase of 1,196 cases, mainly due to the rise of over 3,000 deception cases.
The Immigration Department stands fast at the post and maintains efficient services despite the riots in 2019 and the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 that posed unprecedented challenges to the Government. The department made the statement when reviewing its work of 2021. Among other things, it covers national security, the handling of non-refoulement claims, combating the epidemic and services at control points. The department said it has strived to exercise effective immigration control amid the volatile pandemic situation, noting that passenger clearance services at some control points have been suspended since the end of January 2020 due to the pandemic. It has introduced measures to facilitate employers' applications for extending the validity periods of contracts with foreign domestic helpers and for the deferral of their home leave. Under the Smart Renewal service launched last March and expanded in July, regardless of whether the visa applications for further employment of the helpers are submitted online, by post or drop-in box, employers can collect the visas by post upon approval that evades the formalities at the department offices. As at the end of 2021, there were 118,692 applications in which the visas were collected by post through the Smart Renewal service. Regarding the handling of non-refoulement claims, the department said it flexibly deployed manpower and increased resources to cope with the growing number of claims received during the epidemic. In 2021, it processed a total of 2,220 non-refoulement claims with decisions. As at the end of that year, there were 741 claims that are pending screening. On national security front, the Immigration Service Institute of Training & Development has made national security training compulsory for new recruits and provided relevant training to newly recruited civilian staff. The year 2021 marked the 60th anniversary of the Immigration Department. The department said it is steadfast in its duty to serve the public and committed to being the foremost immigration service in the world in effectiveness and efficiency.
Secretary for Security Tang Ping-keung said the Security Bureau is actively studying with the Department of Justice ways to enhance the Official Secrets Ordinance in the context of legislation under Basic Law Article 23. While answering lawmakers’ questions today, Mr Tang explained that although the law enforcement agencies of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are committed to combating acts and offences of an espionage nature, the relevant local legislation was enacted many years ago and cannot fully address the criminal acts of espionage and theft of state secrets at present. He stressed that the Government’s long-standing position is to combat espionage activities endangering national security in the city in accordance with the law. Specifically, given that these spies and their agents are all backed by rivals of a national level, actions must be taken to minimise the risks which they may bring about, he noted. Mr Tang made it clear that the Government seeks to commence consultation before the end of the current-term Government and table the bill to the Legislative Council for scrutiny in the second half of this year. He added that he hopes lawmakers will support the legislative proposals, including those related to espionage offences, so as to better safeguard national security.
On behalf of the Judiciary, I extend a warm welcome to all of you to the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2022. This important occasion focuses public attention on the administration of justice and the rule of law. It reminds our community of the essential role played by an independent judiciary in the continued success of Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" arrangement. It also provides an occasion for us to address the public on the challenges we face. Hong Kong is a society governed by the rule of law. Article 25 of the Basic Law provides that all Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law, and Article 22 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights further states that all persons are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. Government and other public authorities are accountable under the law, just as all private individuals and organisations. As a mature common law jurisdiction, Hong Kong has an established public law regime which ensures that the Government and other public bodies operate within the law and that public powers are exercised in accordance with the requirements of the law. The rule of law ensures and promotes fairness, equality and justice, which are the core values in the administration of justice under our system of law. Many regard the protection of fundamental human rights as a key component of the rule of law. In Hong Kong, fundamental rights are constitutionally guaranteed in Chapter III of the Basic Law, as well as the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, which is constitutionally entrenched under Article 39 of the Basic Law. Our law reports are full of cases where these fundamental rights are generously interpreted and restrictions narrowly confined by reference to their aim, relevance, necessity and proportionality. Independent judiciary vitalAn essential lynchpin of the rule of law in Hong Kong is an independent judiciary. Judicial independence in Hong Kong is constitutionally guaranteed by the Basic Law. Articles 2, 19 and 85 of the Basic Law specifically provide that the judicial power, including that of final adjudication, enjoyed by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the Basic Law is exercised by the Judiciary independently, free from any interference. The Basic Law and the relevant legislation also provide clear and strict provisions regarding the appointment and removal of judges. Article 88 of the Basic Law provides that judges and judicial officers (collectively "judges") are appointed by the Chief Executive on the recommendation of the independent Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission. The commission is chaired by the Chief Justice, and also comprises the Secretary for Justice as an ex-officio member and seven members appointed by the Chief Executive. Of these seven members, two are judges, one is a barrister appointed after consultation with the Bar Council, another one is a solicitor appointed after consultation with the Council of the Law Society, and the remaining three are persons who are not connected with the practice of law. Appointment of judges, whether local or from overseas, must be based on and only based on judicial and professional qualities, as stipulated under Article 92. For those who are interested in finding out how the constitutional guarantee on judicial independence in Hong Kong is practised on the ground, our court hearings are open to the public, our judicial decisions are publicly announced, and the courts' reasons are published for everyone to study. For cases concerning offences endangering national security, only judges designated by the Chief Executive under Article 44 of the National Security Law can handle them, and this has given rise to comments in some quarters in relation to the impartiality of the designated judges. It is of course not my role as Head of the Judiciary to make extra-judicial comments on the law or its operation. However, it is conducive to public confidence in our judicial system to assure the community that, from the Judiciary's perspective, there is no question of the impartiality of our courts being affected by this special arrangement under Article 44. In this regard, I would like to highlight several important facts. First of all, judges are designated by the Chief Executive who may consult the Chief Justice before making a designation. The Chief Justice also makes suggestions to the Chief Executive on possible designations where appropriate. In this connection, it should be noted that judges hearing national security cases are designated from serving judges only. By definition, they are persons who have satisfied the high requirement of judicial and professional qualities under Article 92 of the Basic Law to be appointed as judges in the first place. Moreover, designated judges, like all other judges, are subject to the Judicial Oath which all judges are required to take under Article 104 of the Basic Law. Under the Judicial Oath, a judge swears to serve Hong Kong conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law and with integrity, and to safeguard the law and administer justice without fear or favour, self‑interest or deceit. In particular, this means that no political or other personal considerations of the judge can be entertained in the judicial decision‑making process. The Judicial Oath is binding on a designated judge when he or she sits on a national security case, just as it is binding on them when hearing other types of cases. It is also important to point out that whilst the general power to designate judges to hear national security cases vests in the Chief Executive, the actual assignment of designated judges to hear individual cases remains the responsibility of the court leaders, just like all other types of cases. Finally, where three designated Court of First Instance judges sit without a jury to hear a national security case that falls within Article 46 of the National Security Law, their verdict is given in a fully reasoned judgment which is published online for public scrutiny. Moreover, the same procedural safeguards are in place to ensure a fair trial as in a jury trial, and the same appeal procedure is available to a defendant in case of a conviction. In the past two years, the subject of judicial independence in Hong Kong has attracted a fair amount of attention and comments, not only locally but overseas also. Healthy attention and constructive comments on the Judiciary and its work are always to be welcomed as they help to improve our work and remind us of the utmost importance of judicial independence to the maintenance of the rule of law and the continued success of Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" arrangement. However, when such attention and comments are not based on objective facts and rational arguments, but rather on surmises, political stances or geopolitical considerations, they are of no value to the advancement of the rule of law in Hong Kong or the upholding of judicial independence. Criticisms of court decisions which are made without first ascertaining the facts in a case or reading and understanding the reasons for the court's decision are as meaningless as they are hollow. So is any unsubstantiated doubt over the courts' independence. Judicial independence in Hong Kong exists as a fact. And we are here today to bear witness to this fact. In recent months, attempts to intimidate or otherwise exert improper pressure on judges involved in trying cases arising from the events in 2019 or national security cases are on the rise. These attempts are a direct affront to the rule of law and judicial independence. They certainly deserve condemnation and indeed many have spoken out against them in strong terms. What should also be stressed is that these attempts to threaten and pressurise our judges are completely futile and pointless. The work of our courts remains wholly unaffected by them and our judges continue to dispense justice as it ought to be. Criminal liability will continue to be determined in accordance with the applicable law and the strength of the evidence presented before the court. Those who are proven guilty will be convicted and those not so proven will be acquitted. Convicted defendants will be given punishments that their crimes deserve, no more and no less. This is our job as judges, and we are determined to discharge our duty without regard to any threats that are made to deter us from it. Without giving these distracting threats and interferences any more attention than they require, we have appropriately stepped up security measures in our court buildings so as to ensure the personal safety of all our judges and court users, as well as the due administration of justice and the solemnity of judicial proceedings. Complaint-handing mechanism enhancedTurning to a different but related topic, in my address given at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2021, I mentioned that we would review our existing mechanism on handling complaints against judicial conduct. The review has since been completed, and the enhanced mechanism with a two‑tier structure was set up and came into effect on August 16 last year. In short, pursuable complaints against judicial conduct which are serious or complex, or have aroused wide public attention will now be dealt with under the two‑tier system. A panel of judges comprising more than one High Court judge will first investigate these complaints. The second tier Advisory Committee, comprising senior members of the Judiciary and members from the community with a good and balanced mix of expertise and experience in professional and public services, will then review and advise on these cases before the Chief Justice makes a final decision on each complaint. All results are made public and annual reports are published. The first meeting of the advisory committee was successfully held in September last year and the next one will be held in just over a month's time. Premised on the principle that there should be no undermining of judicial independence, this revised mechanism of handling complaints against judicial conduct will further enhance the transparency and accountability of our system, as well as public confidence in the Judiciary. Allied to the enhancement of the complaints handling mechanism is the updating of the Guide to Judicial Conduct, which was first published in 2004. Judges hold positions of trust and responsibility with regard to the cases and other judicial work that they handle. We owe it as much to ourselves as to the public to observe at all times the highest standards of judicial conduct. At the time the Guide to Judicial Conduct was first published, the topic of judicial ethics, or judicial conduct, was still in its early stages. Indeed the guide was a pioneer work. In the years since the guide was first published, the topic of judicial conduct has seen much growth and development. Given the increasingly complex conditions in which judging takes place, and the increased public interest in the performance of judicial duties, the time has come to review the guide. Accordingly, in March last year, I set up a Working Party, chaired by the Chief Judge of the High Court, to conduct a review of the guide. In reviewing the provisions of the guide, the working party consulted the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, as well as overseas material from major common law jurisdictions. I have since accepted the report of the working party and the new edition of the guide is now being finalised. I believe that when published, this new edition will continue to assist our judges to maintain the highest standards of judicial conduct, and give the public a better understanding of our judicial work and the uncompromised standards we set for ourselves. Turning lastly to the question of judicial efficiency, I would like to assure the community that Hong Kong is blessed with dedicated judges at all levels of court who are committed day in, day out to the practical administration of the law, regardless of praise or criticism. The workload is always heavy and manpower tight. All this must be firmly borne in mind in any discussion on further improving judicial efficiency and output. In my address at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2021, I mentioned the importance of judicial recruitment. I am happy to say that in the latest recruitment exercises for different levels of court, the responses have been encouraging. Three appointments to the Court of First Instance of the High Court were made in November last year and earlier this month. In the coming months, there will be further announcements made on judicial appointments to different levels of court. Moreover, deputy appointments from the legal profession will continue to be made to provide temporary manpower relief. However, the quality of justice is not something we can compromise on in the pursuit of efficiency, and only those who are of the appropriate judicial and legal qualities may be appointed to deputise in our courts. Measures to boost efficiencyApart from increasing manpower, various measures have been and will be adopted to improve judicial efficiency. One important measure is to better manage the inevitable tension between efficient listing of cases for hearing and allocation of adequate time for judges to read into cases and judgment writing. In some cases, this would mean the imposition of more stringent case management directions, as to which I would ask the legal profession for its support and co‑operation. It would also mean longer waits for trials in some cases, or longer waits for judgments in others. Striking the right balance is never an easy task. We are fully aware of the public's expectations and are doing all we can to meet them. Another measure, which was first experimented with last year in cases and appeals falling within the Constitutional & Administrative Law List in the High Court, is the giving of a judgment handing down date at the conclusion of a hearing when judgment is reserved. Once given, the date will not be subsequently changed save for exceptional circumstances. This measure will in the course of this year be generally extended to all civil cases in the High Court and the District Court. It will align the practice, in this regard, between civil courts and criminal courts. The measure will also be extended to all criminal appeals and reviews in the High Court. New practice directions will be issued to give guidance on the timeframes within which judgments in different types of hearings are normally expected to be handed down. Judgment handing down dates will be given at the conclusion of hearings in accordance with these timeframes. For judgments reserved before the coming into effect of this new arrangement, administrative measures are in place to ensure that they are handed down within a reasonable time, and to this end extra efforts are being made. Thirdly, we will continue to expand our judicial assistant scheme to provide support for more judges. In the High Court, we now have both full‑time and part‑time judicial assistants providing much needed assistance to some of our judges. Their service is of particular importance given the huge number of non‑refoulement cases that are still pending before the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal. Of course, the judicial assistants also provide legal and research assistance in other types of cases and work. Fourthly, as has been widely reported, we have renovated the mega court in the West Kowloon Law Courts Building and are in the process of constructing new court rooms in the Wanchai Law Courts Building to cater for the hearing of criminal cases which involve a large number of parties and lawyers. There are still a significant number of criminal cases pending before the District Court arising from the events in 2019. The availability of court rooms with a higher seating capacity and the more flexible use of existing court rooms will go some way towards expediting the hearing of these cases. The bottom line remains, however, that there can be no compromise on the fairness of the legal process. Lastly, the Judiciary has been developing by phases an integrated court case management system across all levels of court for handling court‑related documents and payments through an electronic mode. The entire project is expected to be completed in around three years. We will implement e‑filing in the District Court by phases from March this year starting with civil proceedings. As for the Summons Courts at the Magistrates' Courts, the rollout is tentatively planned for December this year. For the other courts, detailed planning has started. The Judiciary aims to roll out the external functions of the integrated court case management system for the other courts incrementally starting from 2024. Besides, the Judiciary is working on the necessary legislative amendments to fully enable both the civil and criminal courts to conduct remote hearings as they see fit, having regard to all relevant circumstances, including in particular the dual requirements of open justice and fairness. Taking into account the need to further consult stakeholders and finalise the proposed legislative amendments, we plan to introduce the bill into the Legislative Council later this year. In conclusion, I would reiterate that the Judiciary is fully committed to maintaining an independent, impartial and efficient judicial system which upholds the rule of law and safeguards the rights and freedoms of everyone in Hong Kong in accordance with law. Chief Justice Andrew Cheung gave these remarks at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2022 on January 24.
The rule of law, and with it the common law, remains the cornerstone of Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre and an international legal, deal-making and dispute resolution hub. It underpins our capitalist system and way of life. These attributes are protected in the Basic Law which codifies the innovative "one country, two systems" constitutional policy of China. The original aspiration of the Basic Law, as set out in its preamble, is upholding national unity and territorial integrity, and maintaining the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. If we are able to uphold, honour and respect the fundamental precondition of "one country", there is no reason why the “two systems” underpinned by the common law would not continue. First, Article 5 of the Basic Law guarantees that Hong Kong shall retain the capitalist system and way of life for 50 years. It does not mean that this will cease thereafter. Secondly, as a matter of common sense, if "one country, two systems" functions effectively and serves our country and Hong Kong well, there is no reason for it to change. Thirdly, as can be seen in the discussions surrounding the formulation and implementation of "one country, two systems", and as stated by Deng Xiaoping, 50 years was just "a figure of speech", and "for the first 50 years it cannot be changed, and after that, it would not be necessary to change". Importantly, President Xi Jinping and various leaders of the Central People's Government have repeatedly expressed unequivocal support and stern determination to implement "one country, two systems". It is therefore a matter for us to uphold the root of "one country" so that the "two systems" continue to flourish, and with it the continued application of the common law. Judicial independenceOne of the most valuable assets of the common law is the reasoned judgment, upon which stare decisis is premised and which, by reflecting transparency, is a testament to judicial independence. In exercising judicial function, it is a constitutional duty to act impartially and independently, free from any interference. This duty has not wavered notwithstanding the contemptible attempts to threaten our judicial officers and their families, made with a view to undermining the core value of our rule of law. The statements made judicially and extra-judicially by members of the permanent judiciary expressing commitment to judicial independence are supported by their unbiased consideration of law and evidence when adjudicating cases, as evidenced in the reasoned judgments. 25th anniversary of the establishment of the HKSAR2022 is the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The fundamental foundation of "one country" that underpins our constitutional order has been reinforced in the past two years. 2021 has seen case law reaffirming the constitutional order, protecting national security whilst observing human rights safeguards guaranteed under the Basic Law. National Security LawIn the enforcement of the National Security Law (NSL), case law has laid down with certainty and clarity how the NSL is to be applied. In the case of Lai Chee Ying4, Article 42(2)5 was considered. The Court of Final Appeal examined the background, context, and purpose of the NSL, observing that it is intended to operate in tandem with constitutional rights and freedoms and other applicable statutory norms as part of a coherent whole, noting:      "The cardinal importance of the primary purpose of the NSL, namely to safeguard national security and to prevent and suppress acts endangering national security, is clear. That is why changes, including the NSL 42(2) exception applying more stringent conditions to the grant of bail in relation to offences endangering national security have been introduced." Another significant case on the NSL in 2021 is the case of Tong Ying Kit. The Court of First Instance comprising three judges, analysed the elements of the offences of incitement to secession and terrorist activities under Articles 21 and 24 of the NSL respectively, held that the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong Revolution of Our Times" was, in the relevant circumstances, capable of carrying a secessionist meaning, and the defendant was convicted. The Appeal Committee in the case of Ng Hau Yi Sidney considered the scope of the phrase "offence(s) endangering national security" referred to in various provisions of the NSL and held that such phrase should be construed as referring to all offences under the NSL and offences of that nature under existing Hong Kong laws without distinction. The court further clarified that the offence of publishing seditious publications under section 10 of the Crimes Ordinance qualified as an offence endangering national security. Basic LawThe wisdom of the Basic Law lies in facilitating development over time whilst preserving the fundamentals that must be observed. The Court of Appeal, in upholding the constitutionality of the Co-location Ordinance (Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Ordinance), affirmed the important principle that the Basic Law is a living instrument which meets changing needs and circumstances, noting:       "The Basic Law is accordingly drafted with an eye to the future. … Maintaining the Hong Kong system under the "one country, two systems" principle, however, does not mean stagnation. On the contrary, the Hong Kong system is expected to and indeed should continue to develop within the confines of the Basic Law to suit the contemporaneous needs and circumstances of our society, some of which may even be beyond the drafters' contemplation."  Improving the Electoral SystemAnother vital development made in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong is the passing of the Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021 pursuant to the amended Annexes I and II of the Basic Law as promulgated by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. The enhanced electoral system aims to promote a consultative environment towards a common goal and minimises polarisation, leading to the gradual and orderly progress towards universal suffrage as provided for in Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law. Rule of law educationThe Department of Justice (DoJ) complemented these developments through education under the three "Es" programme of our "Vision 2030 for Rule of Law" (Vision 2030) initiative by taking an active role in educating students and teachers on the Constitution, the Basic Law and national security. At the professional level, the 2021 National Security Law Legal Forum titled "Security Brings Prosperity" drew together distinguished speakers sharing experiences on national security legislations locally and abroad. The "Articles & Reference Materials on the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR" and the proceedings of the Basic Law 30th Anniversary Legal Summit "Back to Basics" held in 2020, were also published, providing a learned source for the proper understanding of the Basic Law and NSL. Insolvency framework with the MainlandAs mentioned in my speech in 2019, an expert group has been formed to look at mutual recognition of and assistance in insolvency and corporate debt restructuring matters with the Mainland. In May 2021, we have completed the first stage by signing a Record of Meeting with the Supreme People's Court. I understand that cases have already benefitted from this framework. International collaborationIn 2019, I also announced the establishment of the Inclusive Dispute Avoidance & Resolution Office (IDAR Office) and since then, with the support from the Central People's Government, a number of international collaborations have been concluded. Of particular importance is the hosting of the 59th Annual Session of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO) in Hong Kong and, for the first time, in hybrid mode. Premier Li Keqiang delivered the Opening Remarks and announced the setting up of the AALCO Hong Kong Regional Arbitration Centre, stating that it will "provide more accessible and efficient dispute settlement services to Asian and African countries, and add more brilliance to Hong Kong as the Pearl of the East". AALCO, as an intergovernmental international organisation, provides a unique and important platform for collating perspectives from Asian and African states in engagement with international law. I have the honour of being elected as President of this 59th Annual Session, and active steps are taken to bring the Regional Arbitration Centre into operation. Another intergovernmental meeting, the Intersessional Meeting of Working Group III of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) was held in hybrid form in Hong Kong last year. The UNCITRAL Commission in July 2021 endorsed the suggestion of its Secretariat to collaborate with the DoJ Project Office for Collaboration with UNCITRAL to take part in the Inclusive Global Legal Innovation Platform on Online Dispute Resolution (iGLIP on ODR) that was set up in Hong Kong as referred to in my speech in 2021. We hope that, through projects with UNCITRAL, we will be able to cooperate in promoting, raising awareness and providing bespoke capacity building for online dispute resolution. Last year's Legal Week featured the biennial UNCITRAL Asia Pacific Judicial Summit and the launch of our Rule of Law Database. The latter was a milestone event in our Vision 2030 initiative, and its study aims to bring together empirical and objective data to review the practice of the rule of law. In terms of capacity building, arrangements with various international organisations have been concluded and practitioners from the public and private sectors would be seconded to Hague Conference on Private International Law in The Hague and International institute for the Unification of Private Law in Rome. Under the United Nations Junior Professional Officers Programme, we will be seconding a legal officer to the headquarters of UNCITRAL in Vienna. As for the legal profession, the implementation of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) Legal Professional Examination, allowing our practitioners to practice PRC law in the GBA, is vital to opening up the legal market and merging with developments of the Motherland. The dual qualification of Hong Kong lawyers will put ourselves in a most advantageous position to serve the businesses in the GBA. Amendments to the Legal Practitioners OrdinanceFinally, I am pleased that the Legal Practitioners Ordinance has been amended, permitting all legal officers (be they barristers or solicitors) who satisfy the eligibility requirements to be considered for appointment as Senior Counsel as a recognition of their competence. Looking forwardLooking ahead, the first and foremost task for the Hong Kong SAR as a whole is to fulfil its constitutional duty to enact local legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law to safeguard national security. This constitutional duty is not only expressed in the Basic Law but also in paragraph 3 of the NPC's Decision on May 28, 2020 (the 528 Decision) and Article 7 of the NSL. The DoJ will continue to provide full support and independent professional legal advice to the Security Bureau and draft the relevant laws. The Law Reform Commission has published a report on Outcome Related Fee Structures for Arbitration (ORFSA). The Advisory Committee on Promotion of Arbitration has expressed support to adopt its recommendations and the DoJ is actively pursuing this. The adoption of the proposal is necessary to preserve and promote Hong Kong's competitiveness as a leading arbitration centre, enhance access to justice, and respond to increasing client demand for pricing and fee flexibility, and is supported by the business community. Apart from arbitration, Hong Kong has also been promoting international mediation, in particular in the area of investor state mediation. Our trainings with International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes on this have received good rapport and we will continue to capitalise on this strength. Mediation is well suited to resolve international commercial disputes, especially those arising from long term projects involving states. It is the best form of conflict resolution between states, focusing on common interests whilst preserving relationships, in line with international principles of peaceful co-existence and the peaceful settlement of disputes as set out in key documents such as the United Nations Charter. We are also actively promoting the use of mediation under Working Group III of UNCITRAL. We are primed to provide services for and to promote international mediation. We have also worked with our counterparts in the GBA to have the GBA Mediator Accreditation Standards and the GBA Mediator Code of Conduct Best Practice, endorsed by the third Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area Legal Departments Joint Conference last December, and will continue to work together on other areas. We will spare no efforts in the pursuit of these matters and hope to bring to fruition some ideas that have been explored. Various projects under Vision 2030 will continue and in particular, the study on the use of objective data launched in the 2021 Legal Week. This year we will hold the Basic Law Legal Summit titled "Stability to Prosperity", and launch a publication titled "Basic Law: Selected Drafting Materials & Significant Cases". The National Security Legal Summit titled "Thrive with Security" will be held to further the better understanding of the concept of national security. ConclusionLadies and gentlemen, with the present consolidation of "one country" as the fundamental premise in place and national security protected, I am confident that the common law will continue to apply in Hong Kong beyond 2047. It is high time we genuinely appreciate the "one country, two systems" policy. The DoJ will continue to further the proper understanding of the rule of law and the constitutional order, to protect the independence of our judiciary, to perform our professional role as government legal advisor, and to discharge our prosecution duties independently as required under the Basic Law. None of the above could be achieved without the full support from all my brilliant colleagues in the DoJ. I am most grateful to them for their dedication, resilience and professionalism. Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng gave these remarks at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2022 on January 24.
The ceremonial opening of the legal year 2022 was held at the Court of Final Appeal today. In his opening remarks, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung noted that attempts to intimidate or exert improper pressure on judges involved in trying cases arising from the events in 2019 or national security cases are on the rise, which he said are a direct affront to the rule of law and judicial independence and certainly deserve condemnation. “What should also be stressed is that these attempts to threaten and pressurise our judges are completely futile and pointless. The work of our courts remains wholly unaffected by them and our judges continue to dispense justice as it ought to be.” Mr Cheung also emphasised that designated judges handling cases concerning offences endangering national security would not affect the impartiality of courts. “It is conducive to public confidence in our judicial system to assure the community that, from the Judiciary’s perspective, there is no question of the impartiality of our courts being affected by this special arrangement under Article 44 (of the National Security Law).” The Chief Justice noted that judicial independence in Hong Kong has attracted a fair amount of attention in the past two years, both locally and overseas, and made it clear that the Judiciary always welcomes healthy attention and constructive comments on its work, but not those which are not based on facts.  “When such attention and comments are not based on objective facts and rational arguments, but rather on surmises, political stances or geopolitical considerations, they are of no value to the advancement of the rule of law in Hong Kong or the upholding of judicial independence.” Also speaking at the event, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng said the original aspiration of the Basic Law is upholding national unity and territorial integrity, and maintaining the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. She added that if the fundamental precondition of “one country” is upheld, honoured and respected, there is no reason why the “two systems” underpinned by the common law would not continue. “Article 5 of the Basic Law guarantees that Hong Kong shall retain the capitalist system and way of life for 50 years. It does not mean that this will cease thereafter. “Secondly, as a matter of common sense, if ‘one country, two systems’ functions effectively and serves our country and Hong Kong well, there is no reason for it to change. “Importantly, President Xi Jinping and various leaders of the Central People’s Government have repeatedly expressed unequivocal support and stern determination to implement ‘one country, two systems’.” Looking forward, Ms Cheng said implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law is the first and foremost task for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to fulfil its constitutional duty. The Department of Justice will provide full support and independent professional legal advice to the Security Bureau and draft the relevant laws, she added.
Customs today said that its officers did not fabricate evidence on January 14 to incriminate an ethnic minority young man. It made the clarification in response to Internet rumours about Customs officers “planting evidence”, saying they are unfounded. In an operation in Kwai Chung yesterday, officers found five suspected counterfeit handbags, with an estimated market value of about $2,000, inside a parcel at a logistics company. The officers immediately conducted a surveillance operation on the delivery and arrested a 34-year-old male consignee under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance. They further seized 89 items of suspected counterfeit handbags, wallets and watches on the scene. The market value of these goods is estimated to be about $40,000. Investigations are ongoing. Customs stresses that all operations are conducted with fairness, impartiality and professionalism based on facts and evidence. It denounced irresponsible allegations, such as “planting of evidence” by Customs, on social media platforms.
Customs clarified again today that it has never arranged a public auction by means of a website or a social media platform to sell confiscated items and reminded the public to be alert and avoid being scammed. The department noticed that five websites registered in the US, Singapore and Korea falsely claimed that Customs was making arrangements for selling confiscated items by means of public auction. Customs officers found that similar content was published by lawbreakers on newly opened websites and social media platform pages. People are urged to stay alert since similar websites and social media platform pages will probably emerge again in the future.  The department also pointed out the five websites conveyed false information that conspired to mislead members of the public. It suspects intellectual property right infringement, noting that there may be offences under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance and Copyright Ordinance. Customs has already requested the social media platform's operator to remove the hyperlink as soon as possible and it will also contact INTERPOL for follow-up action. Confiscated items will be handled strictly in accordance with established guidelines upon the completion of legal procedures, and those suitable for placing on public auction will be co-ordinated and handled exclusively by the relevant government department in Hong Kong, it stressed. Customs never works with any external individuals or bodies to hold a public auction. Call 2545 6182 or email to report suspected unfair trade practices or infringing activities.
The Fire Services Department responded to 93.7% of the building fire calls in 2021 within the graded response time, about 1.2 percentage points higher than the department’s performance pledge. Issuing the department's year-end review today, it said a total of 33,891 fire calls were received in 2021, a rise of 0.8% compared with the previous year. There were six No. 3 alarm fires, more than the four recorded in 2020. Among them were two vessel fires in the waters off Stonecutters Island and at Aberdeen South Typhoon Shelter. A more notable No. 3 alarm fire that broke out recently was the one on December 15 at a commercial centre in Causeway Bay. Ambulance calls rose 10.9% to about 765,614 in 2021. Last year, 92.4% of the emergency calls were responded to within the target response time of 12 minutes, which was 0.1 percentage points lower than the department's performance pledge of 92.5%.  Fighting against COVID-19, the department handled a total of 3,317 calls of confirmed COVID-19 cases in 2021, with the involvement of 2,099 fire and ambulance personnel. Five ambulance personnel were infected after handling infected patients and they all recovered. Furthermore, four fire personnel and six ambulance personnel who had handled infected patients were put into compulsory quarantine at quarantine centres. The department announced last December to establish the Fire & Ambulance Services Teen Connect. Elements of national education will be embedded in the activities offered to nurture the young generation into citizens with a sense of social responsibility and national identity, an affection for Hong Kong and an international perspective.  Considering that adopting the Chinese-style foot drill can raise service members' sense of identification with and pride in the country, the department began a programme in July last year for the full implementation of the Chinese-style foot drill. The department will switch to adopt the Chinese-style foot drill in various daily ceremonial occasions from January 24. Regarding plans for the year ahead, it is actively exploring the use of new technologies to enhance the emergency services. Firefighting robots are expected to be put into service in the third quarter of 2022. An estimated 885 fire and ambulance personnel will be recruited this year, including 128 officers and 757 rank-and-file staff. 
The fifth cycle of the citywide identity card replacement exercise will start on April 4, the Immigration Department announced today. Hong Kong residents born in 1989, 1990 or 1991 should apply for a new smart identity card at any Smart Identity Card Replacement Centre from April 4 to June 10. Those born in 1992, 1993, 1994 or 1995 are invited to replace their cards between June 11 and September 7, while those born in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 or 2000 have to do so from September 8 to December 10. Hong Kong residents born in 1954 or before who hold the old form of smart identity cards are required to replace their cards between April 4 this year and January 14 next year. The department reminded people who born in 1980, 1981 or 1982 that their specified period for identity card replacement will end on January 18. Those who have not yet applied for a new smart identity card should make an application as early as possible. Bookings can be made online, through the department's mobile application or by calling the 24-hour hotline at 2121 1234. Each eligible applicant can bring up to two people with disabilities, in addition to two seniors aged 65 or above, to replace their identity cards together. Starting from April 4, all eligible applicants aged 65 or above may also choose to visit any of the centres and apply for identity card replacement on their own. Call 2824 6111 for enquiries.