Respect rule of law Safeguard judicial independence
Oath-taking by civil servants
Grasp correct and comprehensive vaccines information
17 January 2021
The Legislative Council will meet this Wednesday to Friday (January 20 to 22) for the debate on the Motion of Thanks for the Policy Address. In her fourth Policy Address entitled "Striving Ahead with Renewed Perseverance" delivered on November 25 last year, the Chief Executive put forward over 250 short-, medium- and long-term initiatives to capitalise on Hong Kong's traditional strengths and the opportunities for integration into the overall national development. Promoting major policy changes, this Policy Address responds to the needs of the public and society at large and lays a solid foundation for Hong Kong's long-term development. It is a forward-looking, pragmatic and proactive policy blueprint fully demonstrating the current-term Government's confidence in governance and commitment. The Government will listen to Members' views with an open mind and an open heart and respond appropriately.
Upholding the rule of law and defending judicial independence
Last Monday (January 11), I attended the swearing-in ceremony for the new Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal, the Hon Andrew CHEUNG Kui-nung, and the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2021. I congratulate Chief Justice CHEUNG on his assumption of office. Mr CHEUNG is a seasoned legal eagle who has been highly and widely recognised. I have every confidence that he would safeguard the rule of law and judicial independence with sheer dedication. Under his leadership, all judges and judicial officers will continue to uphold the Basic Law, serve the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) conscientiously and dutifully, and safeguard the law and administer justice without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit. The Judiciary will also sustain its efforts in spearheading reforms to keep abreast of the times.
The rule of law and judicial independence are the much-cherished core values of Hong Kong as well as the cornerstones of its success. Since the establishment of the HKSAR, the legal system, rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong have been maintained by virtue of the constitutional protection conferred by the Basic Law, which must be safeguarded by the community at large.
Earning international acclaim
The HKSAR Government prides itself on its rule of law and independent legal system. Since the reunification, the rule of law in Hong Kong has remained in the top tier of international rankings. Despite the cascade of severe violent incidents in 2019, Hong Kong's solid foundation of the rule of law is well manifested in several indicator rankings. For instance, Hong Kong maintained its ranking as No. 5 in the East Asia and Pacific Region and No. 16 globally (a higher ranking than the United States) in the Rule of Law Index 2020 newly released by the World Justice Project, enunciating the recognition of the city's perseverance in safeguarding the rule of law. Likewise, according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2019 published by the World Economic Forum, Hong Kong ranked No. 8 globally and No. 2 in Asia for judicial independence. These speak volumes about the world's acclaim for the rule of law and judicial independence of Hong Kong.
The sound and independent legal system in Hong Kong is of immense value. The HKSAR Government will do its utmost and remain steadfast in defending judicial independence, safeguarding and respecting the rule of law while upholding the Basic Law.
Courts shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference. Any acts or commentaries against this practice are unacceptable. While it is natural for members of the public to have dissimilar opinions on court decisions, they should take due caution and be held responsible for exercising the right of commenting on such decisions. They should neither exert pressure on judges or courts by any means nor launch any personal attacks, or else it will be detrimental to the confidence of the local and international communities in the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong.
National Security Law ensures Hong Kong's prosperity and stability
The rule of law is a treasure of our community which can ensure social order and promote socio-economic development. All members of the public are therefore obliged to make every effort to protect and defend it.
With the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, the chaotic situation involving conspiracy to attain "Hong Kong Independence" and serious violence has been reverted. The city has since restored its stability and return to its normal state of affairs.
The National Security Law establishes effective legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, strengthening the principles of "One Country, Two Systems", "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" and a high degree of autonomy. It clearly stipulates that human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security in the HKSAR and that citizens shall enjoy legitimate rights and freedoms, including those freedoms and rights they enjoy under the Basic Law.
Implementation of the oath-taking / declaration requirement
Manifestation of the responsibilities of civil servants
Under the Basic Law and the Civil Service Code, it has consistently been the duty of civil servants to uphold the Basic Law, bear allegiance to the HKSAR, be dedicated to their duties and be responsible to the HKSAR Government. This has all along been what the Government and society expect and require of them. All civil servants should in no uncertain terms acknowledge and accept these basic duties.
Taking an oath or signing a declaration by civil servants is an open acknowledgement of the acceptance and a genuine manifestation of the responsibilities of and expectations on them, which will enable them to have clearer awareness of the duties, responsibilities and requirements entailed by their official positions, thereby further safeguarding, strengthening and promoting the core values that should be upheld by civil servants, and ensure in turn the effective governance of the HKSAR Government.
Two days ago (January 15), the HKSAR Government issued a circular to all policy bureaux and departments, promulgating the requirement for civil servants appointed to the civil service before July 1, 2020 to take an oath or sign a declaration. All serving civil servants who were appointed to the civil service before that day are required to sign a declaration that they will uphold the Basic Law, bear allegiance to the HKSAR, be dedicated to their duties and be responsible to the HKSAR Government. Civil servants should sign and return their declaration within four weeks after their department has issued the letter concerned. Civil servants appointed to senior positions such as Heads of Department will be additionally required to take an oath.
Separately, the HKSAR Government has required civil servants appointed on or after July 1, 2020 to take an oath or sign a declaration as one of the conditions for appointment. So far, over 4 000 civil servants joining the HKSAR Government on or after July 1, 2020 have signed the declaration.
Civil servants, being a key component of the governing team of the HKSAR government, definitely have a duty to uphold the Basic Law and ensure the implementation of "One Country, Two Systems". As we have pointed out earlier, the requirement for civil servants to take an oath or sign a declaration carries great symbolic significance beyond the brief wording of the oath or text of the instrument, as such a collective effort of civil servants will demonstrate their loyalty and commitment to uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to the HKSAR. It will effectively enhance civil servants' awareness of the issue through further clarifying the responsibilities and requirements incumbent upon them and obliging their manifestation in oath-taking or signing of declaration.
The difficulties and challenges facing Hong Kong are unprecedented. I call on my colleagues in the civil service to continue their efforts, stay committed to their posts, serve society with heart and soul, and help Hong Kong find its way out of the predicament.
Procuring sufficient vaccines and arranging for priority groups to receive vaccination first
With the availability of vaccines bringing a gleam of hope for the control of COVID-19, vaccination programmes have commenced in many countries/places around the world. By entering into advance purchase agreements, the HKSAR Government has procured three types of vaccine from different technology platforms1, each of which will provide 7.5 million doses to Hong Kong. The vaccines require two doses per person and the quantity procured is enough to cover 1.5 times our population. Vaccination will be provided to the public free of charge with priority groups2 to be handled first.
Obtain correct and comprehensive information on vaccines
In approving the use of vaccines, the HKSAR Government will abide by statutory requirements and pay heed to expert advice, with a view to ensuring that the vaccines satisfy the requirements of safety, efficacy and quality. On the basis of scientific evidence and in line with the principle of openness and transparency, we will provide the most updated information on vaccines and related expert advice to the public through different channels. In view of the varied information on vaccines circulated in the community which is partly inaccurate or even contains false and misleading contents, members of the public are urged not to hastily believe unverified online information. The HKSAR Government will clarify and dispel rumours immediately when necessary to avoid public misunderstanding.
The HKSAR Government will continue to treat anti-epidemic work as top priority, exerting all-out efforts to combat the epidemic on all fronts. The general public must be co-operative and self-disciplined in strictly observing social distancing measures by minimising social gatherings and actively participating in virus testing. Let us fight the virus together to ensure that we will enjoy a healthy Spring Festival.
1 They are Sinovac Biotech (Hong Kong) Limited, BioNtech and Fosun Pharma, and AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
2 They include groups which have higher risks of coming into contact with the COVID-19 virus, groups which have greater mortality rates after contracting the disease, and groups which may easily transmit the virus to the vulnerable or weak if infected (e.g. healthcare workers, the elderly and staff of residential care homes). We will also look at other groups which may need to receive vaccination early due to their work nature or other needs, with the aim to enable members of the public to receive vaccination free of charge by phases according to risk levels so that they can return to a more normal life as early as possible.