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The Immigration Department (ImmD) today announced that electronic services for visa application have been extended to all visa application types with immediate effect. This means applicants of visas/entry permits for visits, employment, investment, training, residence and study can complete the entire application process online without having to visit an Immigration Office in person. Applicants can submit their visa applications, make payment and collect the visa/entry permits through the department’s mobile application, its website or the GovHK website. People may continue to use the existing methods to submit their applications and pay the fee. The eligibility criteria of relevant applications and fees will remain unchanged regardless of the submission method, the department added. For enquiries, call 2824 6111, or contact the department by fax at 2877 7711 or by email.
I received a formal letter issued by the Central People's Government (CPG) in accordance with Article 11 of the National Security Law yesterday, which required the Chief Executive to submit a report to the CPG on the performance of duties of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in safeguarding national security since the implementation of the National Security Law, including relevant matters such as the work of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong SAR, with an attachment containing specified matters. I convened a meeting of the committee in respect of the matter. I hereby make a statement in the capacity as the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR and the chairperson of the committee. The top priority of the principle of “one country, two systems” is to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests. According to Article 3 of the National Security Law, it is the duty of the Hong Kong SAR under the Constitution to safeguard national security. The executive authorities, legislature and judiciary of the Hong Kong SAR shall effectively prevent, suppress and impose punishment for any act or activity endangering national security. The Hong Kong SAR takes a clear and resolute stance on safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests. The National Security Law has been promulgated and implemented for more than two years. It has made significant contribution to maintaining order and security in Hong Kong. Not only has the law restored order, it has also reinforced the rule of law. Following transition from chaos to order, Hong Kong is advancing from stability to prosperity, with security and stability enhanced in all respects. I will summarise the relevant matters and submit a report to the central authorities as requested as soon as possible. In a recent case of public concern, that is the ad hoc admission of Timothy Wynn Owen, King's Counsel of the United Kingdom, granted by the High Court for representing Lai Chee-ying who was charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security and other offences, the Secretary for Justice made an application for leave to appeal against the judgment on the application for ad hoc admission. The Appeal Committee of the Court of Final Appeal dismissed the application of the Department of Justice this afternoon. In the report to be submitted to the CPG, I will mention this case and recommend that a request be made to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) to issue an interpretation in accordance with Article 65 of the National Security Law, in order to clarify the following question: Based on the legislative intent and objectives of the National Security Law, can an overseas solicitor or barrister who is not qualified to practise generally in Hong Kong participate by any means in the handling of work in cases concerning offence endangering national security? The underlying considerations and concerns of my recommendation for interpretation include: The National Security Law is a national law enacted under the principle of “one country, two systems” for safeguarding national sovereignty and security. It was enacted against the actual circumstances which had seriously endangered national security arising from the opposition to the proposed legislative amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, including massive outbreak of violence, advocacy for Hong Kong independence, and foreign interference in the affairs of Hong Kong. In an article published by the Office of the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong & Macao Affairs and the Hong Kong & Macao Affairs Office of the State Council in April 2021, it was pointed out that the turmoil in 2019 was a “colour revolution” in Hong Kong, and in the light of such situation, the central authorities authorised the NPCSC to enact the National Security Law. The National Security Law has an overriding effect on the local laws of the Hong Kong SAR. Article 62 provides that this law shall prevail where provisions of the local laws of the Hong Kong SAR are inconsistent with this law. National security is a matter of top priority. We must implement the National Security Law effectively and prevent all types of risks endangering national security. National security risks are complex and vary frequently. Such risks include planning, conspiracy, collusion, provision of funds and other preparatory acts, which happen under concealment and out of sight at the early stages. Where collusion with external elements is involved, the latent acts may even take place overseas. Although such risks are generated before occurrence of substantive offences, they are not easy to detect. Therefore, prevention of acts and activities endangering national security is no easy task, and everyone should stay vigilant to them. Foreign countries and external elements are hostile towards the enactment and implementation of the National Security Law, and have on multiple occasions blatantly attempted to interfere in the implementation of the National Security Law. Out of their political interests and agenda, some foreign countries have announced or adopted measures against China and the Hong Kong SAR, including imposing various forms of “sanctions”, restrictions or prohibition on sale and use of products etc. Some foreign officials or politicians openly exerted pressure on the legal sector and even the business sector to boycott Hong Kong, preventing them from participating in normal activities in Hong Kong. Because of the relentless foreign interference in the affairs of Hong Kong, we must step up alertness to the national security risks it brings about.Various provisions of the National Security Law such as Articles 3, 8 and 42 require relevant authorities to perform the duty to effectively prevent acts and activities endangering national security. Under the prevailing system in the Hong Kong SAR, there is no effective means to eliminate any conflict of interests on the part of overseas solicitors or barristers with the national interests of their country; no effective means to ensure they would not be subject to the pressure, coercion or manipulation of governments, organisations or individuals of foreign countries; and no effective means to ensure they would comply with the confidentiality requirements in relation to state secrets, trade secrets or personal information which they come to know in the practice of law as stipulated in Article 63 of the National Security Law. In the light of these potential risks, is permitting such overseas solicitors or barristers to participate in the handling of national security cases consistent with the legislative intent and objectives of the National Security Law to safeguard national security? Hong Kong residents have the right to choice of lawyers. As explained in the case law, a defendant's right to choice of lawyers means a right to choose lawyers who are available and entitled to practise, and not overseas lawyers who are not qualified to practise. Therefore, even though defendants in cases concerning offence endangering national security cannot engage overseas lawyers, it is still consistent with the respect and protection of defendants' rights and freedom as required by Articles 4 and 5 of the National Security Law. As the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR and Chairperson of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong SAR, I am accountable to the CPG for affairs relating to safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong SAR by virtue of Articles 11 and 12 of the National Security Law. Based on the above considerations, I will, in the report to be submitted to the CPG, recommend that a request be made to the NPCSC to interpret the relevant provisions of the National Security Law aforementioned or any other relevant provisions in order to clarify the above question. I will submit the report to the CPG as soon as possible, and request the central authorities to handle the matter expeditiously. Chief Executive John Lee issued the statement on November 28 on submitting a report to the central government on the National Security Law and recommendation to request an interpretation of the National Security Law from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
The Civil Aid Service (CAS) held the Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Establishment of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and CAS 70th Anniversary Parade today at the Police College. Chief Secretary Chan Kwok-ki officiated at the ceremony and acted as the reviewing officer for the parade. To demonstrate national identity and patriotic sentiment for the motherland, the CAS has fully adopted from today, the Chinese-style foot drill that requires exacting standards, and demonstrated the drill's protocols for the first time in the parade. As an auxiliary force under the Security Bureau, the CAS has been honouring the pledge of "provide emergency relief, serve the community" and has been rendering immediate assistance during emergencies to protect Hong Kong citizens. During the COVID-19 epidemic, the CAS has remained steadfast on the front line of the anti-epidemic operations by rapidly assisting in setting up a number of community isolation facilities and managing quarantine hotels. In addition, it is committed to discharging duties related to typhoon rescues, fighting hill fires and searching for people who have gone missing in mountaineering accidents. Looking forward, the CAS will step up efforts to nurture more talent committed to serving the community and continue to safeguard the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.
Smart identity card replacement centres will not accept applications for the new smart identity card after February 11, 2023, while card collection service is maintained until March 3, 2023, the Immigration Department announced today. People who have missed their specified call-up periods and have not yet applied for a new smart identity card should call on one of the centres to make an application as soon as possible, the department urged. Hong Kong residents born in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 or 2000 should apply for a new smart identity card no later than December 10 this year. For Hong Kong residents born in 1954 or before, their specified period for identity card replacement will end on January 14 next year. The identity card replacement exercise covers all Hong Kong residents, be they permanent residents or non-permanent residents who are permitted to take up employment, make investments, reside or study in the city. Bookings can be made online, on the department’s mobile app or by calling the 24-hour hotline at 2121 1234. Call 2824 6111 for enquiries.
With regard to the 2019 anti-extradition amendment bill incidents, the Department of Justice today said its Special Duties Team had received 1,215 cases from Police and had given legal advice on 98.8% of them ie 1,201 cases. Responding to media enquiries, the department stressed that upon receipt of the evidence and relevant documents from the law enforcement agencies, its prosecutors always handle the cases expeditiously in accordance with the law and the Prosecution Code. For the anti-extradition amendment bill incidents, cases involving serious offences such as rioting and unlawful assembly are handled by the Special Duties Team of the department’s Prosecutions Division. Nevertheless, the law enforcement agencies do not necessarily refer all their cases to the department, it explained, as such cases may still be under investigation or no follow-up action is necessary for the time being. When evidence is considered insufficient to warrant a case referral or if the cases have been handled by the law enforcement agencies in accordance with internal procedures, such cases will not be relayed to the department, it added.
The Government announced today that the Correctional Services Academy will hold a grand performance and open day on December 10 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the renaming of the Prisons Department as the Correctional Services Department. The open day will also serve as a way to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Activities will include demonstrations by the dog unit and the regional response team, a Chinese-style foot drill demonstration by the guard of honour, a music performance by the marching band, exhibitions, game booths and an experiential activity. Additionally, members of the public can visit a number of “smart training” facilities at the academy that use new technologies, such as the e-theatre, the virtual reality training facility and the artificial intelligence Chinese-style foot drill learning station. The open day will be held from 10.30am to 5pm. People can apply for a set of four admission tickets online until December 4. The tickets will be allocated by computer ballot and successful applicants will receive an email notification on December 6.
The Government today gazetted a bill to propose the extension of the statutory time limit for the registration of deaths from natural causes from 24 hours to 14 days. It also proposes to remove the requirement for registration of births and deaths applicants to attend the registries in person. The Security Bureau said that relaxing the time limit for the registration of deaths from natural causes will allow relatives more time to handle after-death arrangements without running the risk of unintentionally breaching the law. Separately, the bill seeks to reflect the prevailing practice by specifying the duties for death registration with respect to the cause of death as opposed to where the death took place. Modernising the death registration regime through the proposed amendment can provide the legal basis for the introduction of electronic services for registration of births and deaths. The bureau added: “We also aim to provide more convenient services to the public by enabling the electronic submission of applications for registration of births and deaths.” The Births & Deaths Registration (Amendment) Bill 2022 will be introduced into the Legislative Council for the first and second readings on November 30.
Commissioner of Police Siu Chak-yee today tested positive for COVID-19 through a rapid antigen test (RAT) and a subsequent polymerase chain reaction-based nucleic acid test. He is undergoing isolation in accordance with the Centre for Health Protection's guidelines. Mr Siu last went to work on November 17. He wore masks and followed relevant disease prevention measures at work, including taking a RAT daily. Police have conducted thorough cleaning and disinfection operations at the office concerned. Mr Siu was earlier confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 in August and had fully recovered afterwards. He attended the Disciplined Services Tennis Tournament yesterday and joined other participating officials in a tea break after the prize presentation ceremony. Secretary for Security Tang Ping-keung, Commissioner of Customs & Excise Louise Ho, Commissioner of Correctional Services Wong Kwok-hing and Director of Fire Services Andy Yeung are identified as close contacts. They are undergoing home quarantine but tested negative by RAT today. The relevant officials had made acting arrangements. Operations of the departments will not be affected.
The Judiciary has put in place various measures to ensure the judicial process is fair to people with disabilities to ensure due administration of justice. The Judiciary made the statement today in response to media enquiries on the accessibility aids and services it provides for disabled people, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHoH), in court proceedings. In light of the varying needs and different communication methods or support requirements amongst people with disabilities, the Judiciary provides multiple accommodation aids and services for litigants, witnesses and legal practitioners in court proceedings provided that they will not compromise the due administration of justice. For DHoH people, the assistance includes the provision of infra-red headphones and audio-guide-like receivers in court hearings. Noting that specific arrangements made in a court proceeding or hearing is a matter of court and case management for the presiding judges and judicial officers, the Judiciary said individual presiding judges and judicial officers may give directions on a case-by-case basis on the support and assistance to be provided to facilitate the participation of court users with disabilities in court proceedings. Court users may request aids or assistance by completing application form for submission to the relevant registry as soon as they know the date and court venue, preferably in no less than two weeks before the date of court attendance. Click here for the guide and the application form for court assistance for people with different forms of disabilities in court proceedings/hearings. Additionally, a sign language interpretation service is provided to a witness or a party who has such a need in any court proceedings or part of any proceedings. The Judiciary Administration maintains a pool of sign language interpreters engaged to provide interpretation services on a freelance basis. These freelance interpreters are not Judiciary employees. There are currently 15 sign language interpreters in the pool upon the intake of additional sign language interpreters in late 2021. Over the past five years, the average number of proceedings requiring sign language interpretation services was around 100 per annum. The Judiciary will monitor the situation and as necessary take in new interpreters from time to time to ensure the sustainability of the sign language interpretation services. The Judiciary requires sign language interpreters to be engaged to meet certain requirements, including passing sign language proficiency tests and interviews, and possessing considerable experience in providing court interpretation services. The Judicial Institute organises training activities on equal opportunities and rights of people with disabilities for judges and judicial officers from time to time. Reference materials on accommodation measures and support services in court proceedings or hearings for court users with disabilities are available to them. The Judiciary said it is planning to enhance training for its support staff on the handling of court cases involving DHoH people. Talks or seminars on subjects relating to equal opportunities including communication with them will be arranged where appropriate. It will continually review the accessibility aids and services provided for people with disabilities in light of their needs and concerns. Reference will be made to the relevant guidelines and recommendations made by the Equal Opportunities Commission in this regard.
Hong Kong Legal Week is part of a continuing, and growing, series of major events designed to tell the world that Hong Kong is back. Back in business, back in the business of creating opportunity, of reconnecting with the world, and at all levels and sectors, from business and finance, from innovation to technology, sport and culture and, all this week, law. Rule of Law’s Importance to Hong Kong as an international financial centre Speaking of law, I believe the distinguished panellists and speakers today have already shared valuable insights about the relationship between the rule of law and our resounding business success. But do allow me to share my humble thoughts on this issue as well. The common law system, an independent judiciary, and the powers of final adjudication vested in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal (CFA) are among the defining features of the uniqueness of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” principle. Together with our tradition of respect for the rule of law, they have been crucial elements of our world-class business environment. At the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, President Xi Jinping told a world audience that the “one country, two systems” principle will be adhered to in the long run. He emphasised that the central government fully supports Hong Kong in its effort to maintain its distinctive status and edges, as well as our open business environment and connectivity with the world. President Xi expressly referred to Hong Kong’s common law system in this regard. Our firm commitment to the rule of law is indeed the cornerstone of the trust and confidence of investors and businesses in doing business here. That courts independently exercise adjudication powers, free from any interference as constitutionally guaranteed in the Basic Law, ensures that there would be a fair, objective and impartial legal process for enforcing the law and rules. In fact, meritorious judicial processes in Hong Kong are well recognised by the local and international community at large. Our courts continue to make reference to case laws from all jurisdictions throughout the common law world, and judges and other members of the judiciary may be recruited from other common law jurisdictions. In particular, eminent jurists from other common law jurisdictions are appointed to the CFA as non-permanent judges. The right to access justice and judicial remedies is also constitutionally guaranteed. For those who are in lack of means, we provide legal aid to them. Together with a deep pool of local and international legal talent and expertise in arbitration, as well as regulations and practices that align with high international standards, they have constituted a friendly and trusted framework for businesses and investors. Our trusted legal system is all the more important for Hong Kong to function as an international financial centre (IFC). Take our securities market for example. Hong Kong’s equity market is vibrant, active, highly liquid, efficient and transparent, attracting investors from all over the world. According to the figures as at the end of 2021, the market capitalisation of Hong Kong’s stock market was over $42 trillion, around 15 times of our gross domestic product. Close to two thirds of the daily transactions on our market are conducted by international institutions. The rule of law in Hong Kong has instilled trust and confidence among financial market participants and investors from all over the world. We set clear rules for our markets, stringent requirements on our participants, maintain high transparency of the functioning of the markets, and ensure that policies and practices are implemented in a consistent and predictable manner. Every day, we monitor closely the markets, focusing on whether they are functioning orderly and properly, and whether there are systematic risks, irregularities and vulnerabilities that will threaten Hong Kong’s financial stability. We analyse in-depth the performance of our market. For example, factors causing its volatility; its performance vis-à-vis markets in the region and the global markets; any irregular short-selling activities, any concentration risks in the players, any concerted efforts in market manipulation, etc. We also look at the futures market and the derivatives market, and analyse the information in the trade repository system from time to time. We closely monitor the clearing houses, licensed corporations and mutual funds to ensure that they are financially sound and resilient. In short, the Government and the financial regulators never intervene in the market lightly. But we do not tolerate irregularities. Prompt and decisive actions would be taken against suspected criminal acts and syndicates. I trust you have heard this in the news, including those in the past couple of days. Offering an environment familiar to and trusted by international investors, Hong Kong has also performed well as the main bridge between the capital markets of the Mainland and the rest of the world. Over the years, various Connect schemes have come into operation, including Stock Connect, Bond Connect, ETF Connect, and the mutual recognition of funds. The average trading volume of the Stock Connect transactions in the first 10 months of 2022 was over RMB130 billion a day. As a matter of fact, international investors can access the Mainland securities market direct under the regime of qualified foreign institutional investors, or QFII, but by far the most popular route they choose is via the Northbound Stock Connect, which accounts for 72% of international investment into the Mainland securities market. And that is a rising number each year, indicating that Hong Kong is a familiar and trusted place which international investors like to use to capture the Mainland opportunities. More opportunities of Hong Kong as an IFC Looking to the future, there is a wide-ranging development potential for Hong Kong as an IFC. Allow me to share a few updates. Capitalising on our unique connectivity and well-trusted position, Hong Kong is also actively helping with renminbi internationalisation. Many emerging economies - like those in the Middle East as they told me during my visit earlier - have increasingly received RMB as its share in the world’s trade settlement grows. They need to find a way to invest with their RMB. Besides, under the current geopolitical situation, they also have a strong desire to diversify their investment to this part of the world. At the moment, Hong Kong counts the largest pool of RMB liquidity in the world outside the Mainland, amounting to nearly RMB1 trillion as at August this year. Hong Kong’s banks handle over 70% of global offshore RMB payments. We are enriching our RMB ecosystem by rolling out more RMB-denominated investment and risk management products, upgrading our market infrastructure, and broadening the various Connect schemes to provide ever better mutual access between the capital markets of the Mainland and the rest of the world. The Connect schemes are seeing a major milestone with the announcement of three initiatives by the China Securities Regulatory Commission earlier in September. The first one is broadening the scope of Stock Connect to overseas companies that are primary listed in Hong Kong. This will enable overseas companies to tap both international capital as well as the huge Mainland capital, which will enhance the liquidity of such stocks, and consequently provide better support to their valuation. The second one is setting up a RMB securities’ trading counter under Stock Connect. This will provide additional investment choices for Mainland investors and at the same time further the internationalisation of RMB. The third one is introducing Mainland government bond futures in Hong Kong. Together with the MSCI China A50 Connect Index futures contract rolled out last year and the interest rate Swap Connect announced in July this year, we are offering offshore risk management tools for investors when they participate in the Mainland equity and bond markets. And this is important for Hong Kong’s ambition to develop into a risk management centre for global investors. Finally on fintech. Embracing virtual assets (VAs) as a conduit of financial innovations and opportunities that they can bring, we are also minded on the risks on financial stability, consumer protection, as well as money laundering and terrorist financing. As set out in our policy statement on the development of VAs in Hong Kong released last week, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is committed to providing a facilitating environment for promoting sustainable and responsible development of the VA sector in Hong Kong. We will put in place balanced regulation and guardrails, including the latest effort of introducing a licensing regime for VA service providers. Our announcement has received overwhelming support, not just from the Hong Kong VA service providers but also international VA innovators. Since our initiative will help them promote the credibility of the service providers, thereby enhancing investors’ and users’ trust and confidence in this fast growing market. The crux to all these endeavours is, again, the clarity, certainty and consistency of our regulatory regime, for which we have much confidence in line with our fine traditions of the rule of law. Closing remarks There is much more to Hong Kong’s success and growth as an IFC - whether in the area of asset management, corporate treasury, risk management and bonds, the opportunities are just boundless. But all in all, the key word to these is trust. Trust in our financial regulatory system that is clear and consistent; in our conversant role in connecting with the Mainland and the world; and, more importantly, in our rule of law and common law system. Rest assured we will do our utmost to uphold it, for you, and for the promising future of Hong Kong. Financial Secretary Paul Chan gave this speech at the Rule of Law Congress: Rule of Law & Justice for All under Hong Kong Legal Week 2022 on November 11.