Hong Kong’s top court has ruled that police officers can be on duty at the Legislative Council building without the legislature’s prior invitation or approval.
The ruling, handed down by the Court of Final Appeal on Thursday, was in contrast to the understanding of opposition pan-democrat lawmakers.
It was made as the top court rejected the appeal from pro-democracy activist Leung Hiu-yeung, who was jailed last summer for storming the Legco building in June 2014 over a controversial new town development project. Leung was convicted on one count of taking part in an unlawful assembly and one count of obstructing an officer of the Legco in the execution of his duty.
In the appeal hearing on January 10, Leung’s counsel Philip Dykes argued that his client’s conviction only concerned his confrontation with a police inspector, not the Legco’s security officers.
Dykes argued that police officers can only be legally regarded as Legco officers under a written invitation or request signed by the Legco’s president, who was Jasper Tsang Yok-sing at that time. Yet, Tsang only asked the police force for help in his capacity as chairman of the Legco Commission. he said.
According to the judgment handed down on Thursday, the court “held that a prior invitation by the president of Legco is not needed for a police officer to be on duty within the precincts of the Legco [building] and to qualify as an officer of the council.”
“There is no legal foundation for the premise that a police officer can enter the precincts of Legco only by invitation or on the authority of the president,” the court’s Permanent Judge Roberto Ribeiro wrote.
The judge added that the verdict was made after “having surveyed the relevant provisions” of the Legco (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance, and its administrative instructions for regulating admittance and conduct of persons.
He also said that it did not matter whether Tsang was asking the police for help as the Legco’s president or chairman of the Legco Commission. The four other judges in the panel that dealt with Leung’s appeal, including Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Toa-li, agreed with Ribeiro’s reasons for judgment.
Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, a member of the Legco Commission, said it could be wrong for the judges to suggest that police officers can enter the Legco building without prior approval.
“Does it mean that policemen can patrol in the building? The commission has made decisions in the past that the president, the House Committee’s chairwoman and the secretary general can authorise police officers to enter the building when there is an emergency,” she said.
Wong believed that the pan-democratic lawmakers would discuss the court’s judgment, and bring it up in the Legco Commission if needed.