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The ceremonial opening of the legal year 2023 was held at City Hall today, returning to its traditional venue after a two-year absence due to COVID-19 restrictions. In his opening remarks, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung identified three main functions of the Judiciary. “First and foremost, the primary role of the Judiciary is to uphold the rule of law and administer justice in strict accordance with the law. This is the most important function of the Judiciary and the courts must do it well. It cannot be achieved without the Judiciary being an independent, impartial and effective one.” He added that the second role the Judiciary plays in society is the protection of fundamental rights. “It is the function of the courts to uphold fundamental rights. This is an important facet of the rule of law as practised in Hong Kong. “Whilst fundamental rights must be, and are given by our courts, a generous interpretation, most fundamental rights are not absolute - they are liable to be proportionately restricted for the sake of others or for the public interest.” The third role played by the courts relates to their lawmaking function under the common law system. However, the Chief Justice emphasised that the courts’ lawmaking role should not be exaggerated. “In most of the cases that come before our courts, the court’s task is either to interpret and apply written laws, or to apply binding authorities applicable to the dispute before it. Where circumstances justify, the court may give a written law a modern or ‘updated’ interpretation in order to address changes that have occurred after the law was initially framed. “This is permissible so long as it is in accordance with the original legislative intent, and does not do unacceptable violence to the language of the law.” Mr Cheung added that two initiatives are being explored to ensure the Judiciary remains a modern one that moves with the times, involving live broadcasting and e-litigation. “With the advent of technology and given the limited seating capacities of our courtrooms and public health considerations, live broadcasting of proceedings is a natural way forward to further enhance the transparency of court procedures and public confidence in the judicial process. “Yet, the due administration of justice must always remain the primary and overriding consideration. Not all proceedings are inherently suitable for live broadcasting. “I have decided to appoint a working group within the Judiciary, to be chaired by a senior judge, to examine the guiding principles as well as the implementation practicalities of live broadcasting of court proceedings, with a view to introducing live broadcasting of at least some court proceedings or at some court level within sometime this year, if reasonably practicable.” Noting that the second initiative under consideration relates to the Judiciary’s Information Technology Strategy Plan, Mr Cheung said it is time to make a greater stride in driving the migration to e-litigation. “Without seeking to downplay the short-term inconvenience and the cultural change that will be required, the legal profession is strongly urged to give serious consideration to switching to the e-litigation platform.” Also speaking at the event, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam pointed out that although the common law system has been and will be maintained in Hong Kong, it is based on the constitutional order founded on the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. On December 30, 2022, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee interpreted Articles 14 and 47 of the National Security Law. Mr Lam said there are some suggestions that the interpretation has expanded the powers of the Chief Executive and the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, eroding the Judiciary’s independent judicial power and even putting the Chief Executive and the committee above the law. “Such suggestions are plainly wrong and misconceived. The interpretation is, by definition, a clarification of the original intent and purpose of those provisions; it does not confer any new power on anyone. “On this occasion, I wish to make a solemn pledge that the Government will do its best to defend the Judiciary so that it may exercise their constitutional powers and discharge its constitutional duties, independently free from any interference.”
A large-scale interdepartmental exercise based on the Daya Bay Contingency Plan (DBCP) was conducted today to test and enhance the nuclear emergency preparedness and knowledge of relevant personnel in dealing with nuclear power station emergencies that may affect Hong Kong. Chief Executive John Lee and Chief Secretary Chan Kwok-ki, together with a number of principal officials and about 1,400 personnel from various departments and organisations participated in the exercise. The starting scenario of the exercise simulated a chain of equipment fault events at the Guangdong Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station (GNPS), leading to a potential off-site emergency situation involving a release of radioactive materials. Upon notification of the incident in the exercise this morning, the Government simulated the activation of the DBCP and the Emergency Monitoring & Support Centre (EMSC) under the Security Bureau as well as the dissemination of emergency information to the public through the media. The Hong Kong Observatory (HKO), the Department of Health (DH) and relevant government departments immediately conducted environmental radiation monitoring and assessment and provided timely updates on the situation. In a simulated response to the incident, the Chief Executive's Steering Group chaired by Mr Lee, convened a meeting in the morning and deliberated on recommendations made by Secretary for Security Tang Ping-keung. Among the recommendations were raising the emergency response level, stepped-up radiation monitoring, and enhanced monitoring of imported food from the Mainland and locally produced food as well as fresh water. As directed by the Chief Executive, Mr Tang chaired the Implementation Task Force meeting co-ordinating the implementation of the DBCP. Mr Lee, accompanied by the security chief, inspected the operation of the EMSC in co-ordinating with relevant bureaus and departments to handle the nuclear emergency, and know more about the latest situation. To test the Government’s capability of adopting appropriate precautionary measures, Police assisted in evacuating villagers and visitors in Tung Ping Chau and the Government Flying Service (GFS) deployed a helicopter to convey Police reinforcements to sweep the island. During the exercise, a Police launch swiftly transported the evacuees to Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier. The Fireboat 7 participating in the exercise is the world's first civil CBRN (chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear) defence ship certified by a classification society, and is capable of carrying out decontamination procedures onboard for evacuees with possible contamination and monitoring outdoor radiation levels with its gamma ray detectors during evacuation. The evacuees were immediately recorded by the Electronic-Casualties Management Solution being developed by Police and received radiation assessment after landing to ensure that they were not contaminated. Mobile decontamination units with shower facilities were also used by the Fire Services Department (FSD) to demonstrate decontamination procedures for people with possible contamination. Casualty information was simultaneously uploaded to hospitals' accident & emergency departments via the Patient Tagging System for Multiple Casualties Incidents by the FSD to allow early preparation for the possibility of receiving a large number of casualties. To minimise the health risk to citizens, relevant government departments immediately stepped up environmental radiation monitoring to assess the potential outcomes resulting from the nuclear incident as soon as possible. Among them, the FSD and the HKO respectively deployed the Fireboat 7, the unmanned aircraft system and firefighting robot installed with advanced radiation monitoring equipment, the Radiological Survey Vehicles, and the Aerial Radiation Monitoring System (ARMS) on helicopters to carry out radiation monitoring on land, sea and air, collecting samples from different locations to conduct radiological surveys, investigation and data collection. The Government also carried out a series of measures at the Man Kam To Control Point to monitor imported food and goods from the Mainland as well as incoming travellers. The measures included radiation monitoring of imported food and live food animals from the Mainland by the Food & Environmental Hygiene Department's (FEHD) Man Kam To Food Control Office; and radiation monitoring of inbound trucks travelling from areas within 20km of the GNPS, goods on board and their drivers as well as decontamination treatment in case of contamination, by Customs and other relevant departments. Furthermore, Auxiliary Medical Service personnel simulated radiation monitoring of people arriving from the Mainland and carried out decontamination procedures for travellers with radiation contamination at the Man Kam To Control Point. During the exercise, the Government disseminated timely information to the public through different channels. A press conference is simulated to provide the public with comprehensive information. To enhance the professionalism of the exercise and strengthen exchanges, the SB invited ministries and commissions in the Mainland and experts from overseas, Macau and local organisations to observe the exercise and offer advice to the Government. The security secretary went to Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier to view the FSD’s demonstration of radiation assessment and decontamination procedures. He also visited the HKO headquarters to observe radiation monitoring and data analysis work and the Exercise Control Centre in Police Headquarters for more information about the situation. Mr Tang noted that the exercise seeks to ensure the government's nuclear emergency preparedness and relevant professional knowledge, and to enhance the understanding of nuclear power and nuclear emergency preparedness among the public.
The Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region held a meeting today to discuss the implementation of the interpretation and relevant explanations of National Security Law Article 14 and Article 47 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) on December 30, 2022. The committee stated that it will fully fulfil the obligations as stipulated in the contents of the interpretation by the NPCSC, and carry out its duties and functions as prescribed in the National Security Law Article 14 in accordance with the law. They include analysing and assessing developments in relation to safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, making work plans, formulating policies for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong SAR; advancing the development of the legal system and enforcement mechanisms of the Hong Kong SAR for safeguarding national security; and co-ordinating major work and significant operations for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong SAR. Additionally, the committee said it supports the Hong Kong SAR Government to introduce amendments to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance as soon as possible, so as to handle the matter concerning the participation of overseas lawyers who are not qualified to practise generally in Hong Kong in cases involving national security issues in an appropriate manner.
(To watch the full media session with sign language interpretation, click here.) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and Mainland authorities will closely monitor the operation of the resumption of normal travel between the two places and see whether there is room to adjust relevant arrangements. Chief Executive John Lee made the remarks this morning before attending the Executive Council meeting. In addition to pointing out that all relevant boundary control points (BCPs) have been operating well since normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland resumed on January 8, he stressed that the process in which people are travelling across the boundary is being done in an orderly manner. Currently, the total prescribed daily number of people who can travel to the Mainland via these BCPs is 50,000. Noting that there are still time slots available for bookings in the first eight weeks, Mr Lee said the Hong Kong SAR Government will maintain communication with the Mainland authorities to discuss whether it is possible to adjust the prescribed number of people passing through the BCPs and the number of BCPs. “We have assessed a suitable number for people to make appointments so as to ensure that the passage at the boundary crossing points is orderly, safe and smooth. “A lot of visitors from the Mainland need to have the right endorsement for them to come and the process of endorsements has just started. “And the other point I would like to make is, we are not looking at just one or two single days, we are obviously looking at the reopening of the boundary crossing in the long run. And obviously this has been the desire and the wants of a lot of people, not just to satisfy family reunions, but to ensure that normal business and normal activities can go about.” The Chief Executive also emphasised that the resumption of normal travel between the two sides will have a positive effect on the economy as well as the tourism, exhibition, retail and catering sectors. “This normal travel between the two places will not just ensure that the activities between the two places can resume, it also means that our international connectivity will increase as well, as overseas visitors can also come to Hong Kong to make their way into the Mainland and vice versa. “In fact, the Hong Kong SAR Government is planning to do a big promotion exercise starting in February because I think tourism will start to come back in February. So it is the Hong Kong SAR Government’s plan to launch a big promotion for attracting tourism and attracting businesses to Hong Kong and we will be working with the tourism sector and also the business sector to make the promotion in that regard.”
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government today strongly opposed interference by a foreign government in a court case involving Lai Chee-ying and the false allegation and criticism against the Hong Kong SAR Government. It said in a press statement that it will never tolerate, and strongly deplores, any form of interference by any foreign power or individual with Hong Kong’s judicial proceedings and internal affairs. According to media reports, Mr Lai’s purported “international legal team” earlier wrote to the UK's prime minister to request to have an urgent meeting to discuss potential ways to secure the release of Mr Lai who is currently remanded in custody pending trial. It was also reported that UK Minister of State (Indo-Pacific) Anne-Marie Trevelyan met Mr Lai’s “legal team” upon request. Apart from admitting that the authority had been providing support to the defendant, they also falsely alleged that the Hong Kong SAR Government targeted certain people including Mr Lai. The Hong Kong SAR Government stressed that it opposes and condemns the acts of the purported “international legal team” and the UK government which attempted to undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law and interfere with the city’s independent exercise of judicial power. It strongly urges the relevant parties to respect the spirit of the rule of law and stop interfering with Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Should any country, organisation or individual attempt to interfere with judicial proceedings before the Hong Kong courts with political power, or any defendant attempt to seek help from and collude with a foreign political power to evade the criminal justice process, such actions will be deemed as blatantly undermining Hong Kong’s rule of law and interfering with the city’s internal affairs. The Hong Kong SAR Government added that such acts by a defendant highly likely constitute contempt of court.
Chief Executive John Lee visited the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (Futian) Control Point today, the first day of the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland, to view the arrangements for people crossing the boundary. Mr Lee was briefed on the arrangements and spoke to members of the public during the visit, and said he was satisfied with the smooth operation on the resumption of normal travel. Noting that all the relevant boundary control points were operating well and people could travel across the boundary smoothly, he noted that the travel resumption must proceed in an orderly and safe manner. Mr Lee added that the relevant authorities will closely monitor the situation, including the arrangements before and after the Lunar New Year holidays, to come up with a plan for realising the full resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland in a secure and manageable way.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government announced that the operating hours of cargo clearance at the Man Kam To Control Point will change to 7am to 10pm daily with effect from tomorrow. As the COVID-19 epidemic situation became more stable, the governments of the Hong Kong SAR and Shenzhen agreed to adjust the operating hours of cargo clearance at the control point to align with that for passengers. The trade has been notified of the adjustment and the stable supply of food produce to Hong Kong will not be affected by the change, the Hong Kong SAR Government added.
In the run-up to the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland, the Customs & Excise Department today reminded the public and travellers not to bring prohibited or controlled items into or out of Hong Kong. It explained that it has stepped up promotion efforts in this regard by distributing the Smart Guide to Passenger Clearance at boundary control points and will disseminate information via the social media platform pages and WeChat official account. The department stressed that the Government has strict control over the import or export of prohibited and controlled items into or out of Hong Kong. The commonly found prohibited and controlled items are dangerous drugs, psychotropic substances, controlled chemicals, antibiotics, arms, ammunition, weapons, fireworks, strategic commodities, rough diamonds, animals, plants, endangered species, telecommunication equipment, game, meat, poultry, eggs and powdered formula. A passenger bringing any controlled medicines into or out of the city without a licence issued by the Department of Health is liable to prosecution with subject items seized. However, medicines carried by passengers in their personal baggage and in a reasonable quantity for personal use may be exempted from the licensing requirement. Medicines classified as dangerous drugs, antibiotics or Part 1 poisons are also subject to control under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, the Antibiotics Ordinance or the Pharmacy & Poisons Ordinance. The import or export of such medicines requires a doctor's prescription. Regarding alternative smoking products, under the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, any person who imports, promotes, manufactures, sells or possesses for commercial purposes alternative smoking products may be fined up to $50,000 upon conviction and face six months of imprisonment. Such alternative smoking products include electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco, herbal cigarettes and any related devices, parts and accessories. As people may bring in prohibited and controlled items unknowingly after travel, home-visit or festive shopping in the Mainland during the Lunar New Year holidays, they are reminded not to bring into Hong Kong any game, meat, poultry or eggs without a health certificate. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months. Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals & Plants Ordinance, any individual found guilty of importing or exporting endangered species including orchids, ivory, American ginseng and dried seahorse without a licence is liable to a maximum fine of $10 million and imprisonment for 10 years.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government today said that people holding an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to & from Hong Kong & Macao and a Hong Kong identity card concurrently can only use the same document for travelling between Hong Kong and the Mainland. It made the remarks in response to media enquiries about the arrangements for people holding both documents under the first-phase resumption of normal travel between the two places. If people use an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to & from Hong Kong & Macao for going to the Mainland, they do not need to make any booking online. But before returning to Hong Kong, they should make a booking online successfully through the Shenzhen Municipal Government's system. Similarly, if they use a Hong Kong identity card for travelling to the Mainland, they will be required to make a booking online successfully through the Hong Kong SAR Government's system. However, they do not have to make any booking online before returning to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong SAR Government explained that on the principle of fairness, all people are required to make bookings online successfully before travelling to the Mainland or Hong Kong through the Shenzhen Bay, Man Kam To and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line/Futian control points under the first-phase resumption of normal travel. Such an arrangement will not be applicable to Mainland residents entering the Mainland, Hong Kong residents entering Hong Kong, and foreign visitors who return to Hong Kong from the Mainland. 
An interdepartmental meeting chaired by Deputy Chief Secretary Cheuk Wing-hing was held today to plan ahead and guard against the re-emergence of problems arising from parallel trading activities in anticipation of the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland. The Government has all along been concerned about the nuisance caused by parallel trading activities to local residents' daily lives and its impact on environmental hygiene. Law enforcement departments will take stringent action against those who breach the regulations, be they Hong Kong residents or visitors. The departments will keep an eye on parallel trading black spots, especially in North District, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, and take appropriate action based on actual circumstances. Among them, Customs will step up enforcement at boundary control points to inspect whether outbound travellers export controlled drugs, and maintain close contact with the Shenzhen authorities to put more effort into investigation and enforcement against parallel trading activities. The Immigration Department (ImmD) will establish a watch list for identifying suspected parallel traders and subject them to examination. If such people's purpose of visiting Hong Kong is in doubt, the department will refuse them entry and repatriate them immediately. The ImmD and Police will also conduct joint enforcement operations to arrest visitors suspected of contravening conditions of stay by involving in parallel trading activities. Moreover, Police and the Food & Environmental Hygiene Department will closely monitor black spots for parallel trading and step up patrols and enforcement against obstruction in public places by vendors and parallel traders. Regarding the recent episodes of people scrambling for pain and fever relief medicines, the Government pointed out that there are over 750 registered drugs containing paracetamol for people to purchase. The Department of Health has uploaded a list of registered drugs for the public to check online whether their desired paracetamol is under registration. The paracetamol that the Hospital Authority has reserved is currently adequate to meet the demand of local patients who seek medical consultations in public hospitals. The Government said it will continue to closely monitor the supply of medicines containing paracetamol, adding that it does not rule out the possibility of imposing restrictions on the purchase and sale of such medicines if necessary, so as to further ensure that people in need can purchase relevant medicines. It also urged all licensed drug dealers not to stockpile these medicines.