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The Immigration Department announced today that the operation of all nine Smart Identity Card Replacement Centres will be fully resumed on May 11 in light of the more stabilised epidemic situation. The department earlier suspended the replacement of Hong Kong identity cards at the centres to avoid the increased risk of spreading COVID-19. To arrange for people affected by the service suspension to replace their identity cards in an orderly manner, the Secretary for Security has made an amendment order to revise the replacement period for people born in 1957 to 1963 and 1970 to 1976 and the arrangement for members of the sixth term of District Councils. Click here for the arrangements. If the replacement of identity cards needs to be suspended again in the future to cope with a sudden turn of the epidemic situation, the amendment order also provides that if all the centres are not in service for a period of 21 working days or more from May 11 to July 27 for public health reasons, the specified period for the above people will be further extended or amended. The amendment order will be tabled at the Legislative Council on May 13 for negative vetting. To reduce crowd gatherings, applicants who have not made appointments previously should do so via the Internet, the department’s mobile application or the 24-hour hotline at 2121 1234. The department also appealed to applicants to pre-fill the application form when making appointments through the Internet or mobile application. For details click here or call 2824 6111.
(To watch the full press briefing with sign language interpretation, click here.) Chief Executive Carrie Lam today said law enforcement agencies are investigating cases where police officers are suspected of breaching property rules and will give a full account to society. Speaking to reporters before the Executive Council meeting this morning, Mrs Lam said nobody is above the law. “The law will be applied in the same manner regardless of the status, the background, the political affiliation of that particular person. “As far as I am concerned, as the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and also as an individual, no law-breaking behaviour is acceptable. But it is not for me to stand here to judge each and every case because every case or every complaint has to be investigated and analysed by the law enforcement agencies. “I am sure that they will do it as diligently as possible and will give a full account to society, especially given the recent concerns.”
In response to a media report, Police today dismissed allegations that Commissioner of Police Tang Ping-keung turned a blind eye to unauthorised building works at a flat he rented. The force expressed regret over the unfounded report and said that its content deviated from the facts.      Mr Tang rented a unit on Broadcast Drive in Kowloon Tong in 2016 and was notified by the Buildings Department in 2017 that there were unauthorised building works on the unit’s rooftop that must be removed. He immediately informed the owner of the removal order and requested him to handle the matter. The owner has not complied with the order. Mr Tang moved out of the unit in June 2019, Police added.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has rejected allegations made by certain officials and politicians in the United States, United Kingdom and European Parliament relating to an April 18 arrest operation and other security matters. In a statement today, the Hong Kong SAR Government said such allegations were totally unfounded and amounted to a serious intervention in Hong Kong's affairs. The SAR Government strongly disagreed with the grossly irresponsible remarks and expressed deep regret about them. It pointed out that since its return to the Motherland, the HKSAR has maintained stability and prosperity under the principle of "one country, two systems", exercising "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" and a high degree of autonomy in strict accordance with the Basic Law (BL).    "The Central Government has time and again reiterated that it will unswervingly implement the policy of one country, two systems' and make sure that it is fully applied in Hong Kong without being bent or distorted.  “How to implement the policy in the HKSAR - an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China (BL Article 1) and a local administrative region of the People's Republic of China which shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and come directly under the Central People's Government (BL Article 12) - are entirely internal affairs of the People's Republic of China. “No other state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, in those internal affairs.” The statement noted Hong Kong people enjoy extensive rights and freedoms which are enshrined in the Basic Law. Basic Law Article 4 states that the HKSAR shall safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents and of other persons in the region in accordance with law.  “In addition, human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong are fully protected by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other legislation, and underpinned by an independent judiciary." The SAR Government said it always respects and protects human rights and freedoms. Any allegation that there has been an erosion in freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong people is unfounded. However, these rights are not absolute. As pointed out by the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2020: "It is important to understand that the enjoyment of these rights has limits so as not to affect adversely to an unacceptable level the enjoyment by other members of their community of their rights and liberties." There are clear limits in the law as to the exercise of these rights. When the law is broken, action will be taken in accordance with the criminal justice system. "We therefore take great exception to comments made by officials and politicians in foreign countries concerning the recent arrests and prosecution of a number of persons for organising and participating in unauthorised assemblies in Hong Kong.  “The allegation by some that those arrests amounted to an attack on Hong Kong's freedoms and a breach of the BL is absurd and can hardly stand the test of any law-abiding jurisdiction," the statement emphasised. It also pointed out that Basic Law Article 63 provides that "The Department of Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall control criminal prosecutions, free from any interference."  Prosecutors have always been discharging this constitutional duty independently and professionally, without fear or favour. Prosecutorial decisions are based on an objective assessment of all admissible evidence and applicable laws, made strictly in accordance with the Prosecution Code which is available to the public. Cases will not be handled any differently owing to the political beliefs or background of the persons involved. When law enforcement agencies have completed their investigation, they would seek legal advice from the Department of Justice. The prosecutors would carefully consider the investigation reports and relevant materials submitted. A prosecution would only be commenced if the prosecutor is satisfied that there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction. In short, the well-established procedures of Hong Kong's criminal justice system include the independent investigations by law enforcement agencies, the independent prosecutorial decisions based on the objective assessment of evidence, applicable laws and in accordance with the Prosecution Code, and finally, open trials by an independent judiciary.  "The guarantee of judicial independence is explicitly set out in the BL and the quality of the judgments of our courts contributes to the much respected judiciary and rule of law in the HKSAR. "We therefore note with abhorrence certain overseas politicians' request that the HKSAR Government should drop the charges against the arrested individuals. If we were to accede or to be seen to yield to such unreasonable demands, we would not only be unfair and unprofessional but would also act in violation of the spirit of the rule of law – a core value in Hong Kong," the statement added. The SAR Government remains steadfast to uphold the rule of law. The latest Rule of Law Index 2020 released by the World Justice Project, in which Hong Kong maintains its ranking as No. 5 in the East Asia and Pacific Region and No. 16 globally, several places ahead of the United States, has clearly affirmed Hong Kong's commitment. On legislating for Basic Law Article 23, the statement said, "The HKSAR Government has the constitutional duty to ensure that the necessary legislation is in place to safeguard national security. “Having laws in place to protect national security is common in many jurisdictions, and we do not see how any defence of sovereignty and security by a jurisdiction would impact on its local and overseas investment.  “Coincidentally, it is relevant to note security issues arising from the social unrest last year were part of the causes affecting Hong Kong's score under 'Investment Freedom' according to the US-based Heritage Foundation 2020 Index of Economic Freedom." As regards enquiries about the role of the Hong Kong & Macao Affairs Office of the State Council (HKMAO) and the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government (LOCPG) in the HKSAR, they represent the Central People's Government to which the HKSAR comes directly under pertaining to Basic Law Article 12.  These offices have the power and responsibility over the proper and full implementation of the Basic Law and "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong. It is therefore clearly legitimate for the HKMAO and LOCPG to recently express their concerns over the prolonged paralysis of the Legislative Council House Committee, thereby hindering LegCo's performance of its legislative functions under the Basic Law. "Any suggestion that those legitimate remarks by the HKMAO and the LOCPG amount to interference only illustrates an ignorance of the constitutional order of the HKSAR and its relationship with the Central Authorities," the SAR Government added.
The Immigration Department today announced that aside from its Smart Identity Card Replacement Centres (SIDCC) service and passenger immigration clearance service, it will resume full public services on May 4. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the services of the nine SIDCCs had been suspended earlier. Around 640,000 people could not replace their Hong Kong identity cards during their specified periods and about 90,000 people are waiting to collect their new identity cards. To allow affected people to apply for and collect identity cards in an orderly manner, the SIDCCs will first provide identity card collection service and arrange applicants born in 1957 to 1961 who had made appointments before to have their cards replaced once the service resumes. Other applicants are advised to make appointments to replace their identity cards if they have not done so before. The department plans to revise designated replacement periods for identity card holders born in 1957 to 1963 and between 1970 and 1976. Details will be announced later. For enquiries regarding identity cards, call 3521 6565. Additionally, passenger immigration clearance services at immigration control points except for the Hong Kong International Airport, Shenzhen Bay and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Control Points will remain suspended until further notice. Call 2824 6111 or send an email for enquiries.
The first batch of about 300 Hong Kong residents stranded in Pakistan will take a chartered flight tentatively scheduled to leave Islamabad on the morning of April 30 and arrive in Hong Kong in the afternoon. In a statement today, the Security Bureau said the returnees upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport will proceed to the Temporary Specimen Collection Centre at AsiaWorld-Expo by coach for compulsory COVID-19 testing before they are transferred to the quarantine centre at Chun Yeung Estate for a 14-day quarantine. In view of the COVID-19 situation, the Pakistan Government banned all international flight movements since late March, resulting in Hong Kong residents there being unable to return to Hong Kong through normal means. The Immigration Department has received requests for assistance from Hong Kong residents stranded there and as at yesterday, it has successfully contacted about 1,600 of them. Due to the large number of people requesting assistance and having regard to the returnees' quarantine arrangements, the capacities for testing, and the quarantine and treatment facilities, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government must adopt a phased approach in assisting their return, subject to the circumstances. The first batch of Hong Kong residents on the chartered flight are those staying in Islamabad and its surrounding areas. They also include people with special needs such as those with illnesses and pregnant women. The cost of taking the chartered flight is about $6,000 per person and is borne by the user. The Security Bureau said the chartered flight could not have been arranged smoothly without the staunch support of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (OCMFA) and the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan, as well as the full co-operation rendered by the Pakistan Government and the Consulate General of Pakistan in Hong Kong. The bureau said the Hong Kong SAR Government will continue to liaise with the residents still in Pakistan and assist in their return. Meanwhile, a flight will arrive from Doha this afternoon carrying about 170 Hong Kong residents returning from Pakistan themselves. The bureau added that upon their arrival in Hong Kong, they will be arranged to leave deep throat saliva samples at the Temporary Specimen Collection Centre before being admitted to the quarantine centre at Chun Yeung Estate for a 14-day quarantine. Apart from Pakistan, the Indian Government has also since late March banned all international flight movements. As at yesterday, the Immigration Department has successfully contacted about 3,100 Hong Kong residents stranded there who sought assistance to return home. The Hong Kong SAR Government is maintaining close contact with the OCMFA, the Chinese Embassy in India and the Consulate General of India in Hong Kong, while also contacting several airlines to arrange return flights to Hong Kong.
The Government today announced the establishment of a LawTech Fund to help law firms and barristers' chambers procure and upgrade information technology (IT) systems and arrange lawtech training courses for their staff. In a statement, the Department of Justice said the LawTech Fund, established under the Anti-epidemic Fund, will be open for applications from April 28 and cater to small and medium-size law firms as well as barristers’ chambers. Applications will be accepted for two months and those eligible can receive a reimbursement of up to $50,000. The Law Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Bar Association will establish a joint committee to assess the applications and arrange funding disbursement. More than 60% of law firms and 50% of barristers' chambers in Hong Kong are expected to benefit from the funding. As for funding eligibility, law firms or chambers must have five or fewer practising lawyers as at April 8 and at the time of granting the subsidy. The subsidies must be used for procuring and upgrading IT systems, including but not confined to video-conferencing facilities. The lawtech training that is to receive the subsidy must be recognised and approved by the joint committee. The application form and guidance notes are available at the homepages of the Law Society and the Bar Association. The Secretary for Justice has given an outline of the fund and discussed lawtech in her blog.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng today refuted suggestions that the law prohibiting group gatherings to combat the COVID-19 epidemic was being misused to crack down on protests and people's freedoms. During a media session, Ms Cheng responded to criticisms from some legislators that Police were abusing the measure to clamp down on protests. She said: “The Government respects and protects the freedoms that are set out in our laws, Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. However, these freedoms are not absolute. Insofar as they violate the laws, then of course appropriate actions will have to be taken.” The Government had earlier introduced the Prevention & Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G) to prohibit group gatherings with more than four people in public places with a view to combating COVID-19. The regulation was made in accordance with the Prevention & Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599). “Cap. 599G is enforced under Cap. 599 as a matter of the public health emergency situation that is facing Hong Kong at the moment. It is promulgated to encourage social distancing. It is not with any other motive except for the safety and health of the people in Hong Kong. “I hope that you will all comply with it in spirit and in form, so that you will not gather and thereby extend Hong Kong's position in this public health emergency situation. That is the only way by which we can get back to normal life as soon as possible.” In response to a reporter's question on the relevant provisions in the Basic Law that pertain to the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Ms Cheng remarked that the liaison office must also comply with Hong Kong laws. “The Central People's Government as defined in the Constitution Law is actually the State Council, and therefore when one looks at the whole thing about the Constitution Law, Article 5 of the Constitution Law states unequivocally that every body that is set up will have to comply with the relevant laws and the Constitution Law. “In other words, the liaison office will have to obey and comply with the laws in Hong Kong.”
Police today announced its decision to prohibit two public meetings and object to a public procession intended to be held on Hong Kong Island on May 1. Upon risk assessment, Police said it regarded that the public meetings and procession are high-risk activities with crowd gatherings. Police have grounds to believe that such activities do not only increase the risk of infecting participants and other people with COVID-19, but pose a serious threat to the lives and health of all citizens, jeopardising public safety and affecting the rights of others. Police emphasised that it believed it is necessary to prohibit the public meetings and object to the public procession in accordance with the Public Order Ordinance for maintaining public order and public safety as well as protecting the rights and freedom of others. Police reminded the public that taking part in an unauthorised assembly is a criminal offence and those found guilty could be liable to five years’ imprisonment.
The Judiciary today announced all court proceedings will resume as safely as circumstances permit from May 4. Court and tribunal registries will reopen in stages from May 6, including the registries of the Court of Final Appeal and the High Court. Having regard to the public health situation and the need for social distancing, court business will initially be conducted under a reduced capacity. The Judiciary will continue to put in place appropriate preventive and crowd management measures. The measures include requiring all people entering judiciary premises to undergo temperature checks and wear face masks. They also include putting in place queuing, ticketing and triage systems, designated entry and exit points as well as admission control to limit the number of court users entering and remaining on judiciary premises. To maintain social distancing, chessboard seating arrangements will continue to be adopted in courtrooms and court lobbies will reduce seating capacity by half. Additionally, capacity limits will be set for areas such as court registries and accounts offices to avoid crowding.