HONG KONG - Amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law are fair and contain comprehensive legal safeguards to protect Hong Kong residents’ rights, legal experts said on Wednesday.
Some concern was voiced in Hong Kong that fugitive offenders could face unfair trials or punishments if they are sent back to other jurisdictions
They made the remarks after the Legislative Council started the first reading – the first legislative step for a draft bill – on amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. This will allow Hong Kong to extradite fugitives and criminal suspects on a case-by-case basis back to all jurisdictions around the world.
Some concern was voiced in Hong Kong that fugitive offenders could face unfair trials or punishments if they are sent back to other jurisdictions.
But Barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he believed such concerns were unfounded. He said the ordinance made it clear that Hong Kong courts need to review these crimes and ensure offenders will be treated fairly when extradited to other jurisdictions.
Local courts have to review all the facts and evidence, and ensure they are listed as one of the 37 extraditable crimes under the revised ordinance, explained Tong, who is also a member of the Executive Council.
At the same time, the courts need to review the legal systems of destination countries or regions. They need to be certain these jurisdictions can guarantee the human rights of offenders before they are handed over, Tong explained.
The ordinance also makes it clear that political prisoners, and people who could be punished for religious or racial reasons, will not be extradited, Tong stressed.
From 2004 to 2011, Hong Kong has requested extradition of criminals from the United Kingdom four times, and they were all approved. During the same period, Russia requested the extradition of people from the UK 25 times but these were all rejected, Tong noted, stressing that Hong Kong courts will always undertake serious and comprehensive reviews.
“Courts in Hong Kong meet international standards,” Tong said. “They will not approve any requests without a professional review.”
Agreeing with Tong, Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said that under the ordinance, the Department of Justice will review each case before the chief executive says the extradition cases can proceed.
The chief executive’s final order for surrender would only be made after the courts have reviewed each case, Lau noted.
He believes the amendments, which allow Hong Kong to surrender offenders to all jurisdictions, is a “step forward in safeguarding national security”.
Currently, Hong Kong has reached agreements with 20 jurisdictions around the world to surrender fugitive offenders. But this does not include the Chinese mainland.
“As part of China, Hong Kong should not become a loophole for national security and a shelter for criminals from the mainland,” Lau stressed.
Lau believes the central government will not abuse the revised ordinance when it is passed.
Any surrender request that the central government raises to Hong Kong will come to the attention of the special administrative region and the international community - both legally and politically, Lau noted.
“I don't think the central government will raise a request randomly, or out of political reasons, if it’s not an extremely serious crime or of vital importance,” Lau said.
LegCo’s debate on the bill is currently adjourned at the second reading. Lawmakers will further deliberate on it before the second reading resumes during the plenary meeting.
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