A Hong Kong opposition politician is taking legal action against a government administrator serving the district council he chairs for refusing to facilitate discussion of an arrest during social unrest this year.
Lo Kin-hei, Southern District Council’s chairman, has applied for judicial review to force the secretary to place the police handling of vulnerable suspects on the agenda, in what he believes will be the first time councillors have taken their secretariat to court.
The latest row highlights the souring relations between district councils and the government after the opposition camp – drawing on public anger over last year’s now-withdrawn extradition bill and months of civil unrest – recorded a resounding victory over the pro-establishment bloc in the 2019 elections to take control of 17 of the 18 local bodies.
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Democratic Party politician Lo argued that neither the secretary, who is a Home Affairs Department officer, nor the government – which deems such topics outside the remit of district councils – had the right to dictate what councillors could discuss.
“Our view is that it has always been the chairman who can decide what should be included in the agenda of a meeting,” said Lo. “Once the chairman has made a decision, the secretary or the secretariat should only follow it. We hope the court can make a ruling on this.”
At the centre of the row was a request by activist-turned-Southern district councillor Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai, formerly a member of the now-disbanded localist party Demosisto, to discuss at July’s meeting the arrest of an autistic man by Hong Kong police during an anti-government protest in Causeway Bay the previous month.
It was said the man, a Southern district resident, was not a protester and only passing the scene.
Lo agreed for the matter to be put on the agenda. But the secretary to the council, Priscilla Yip Wai-see, asked Lo to reverse that decision.
She said in a letter to Lo that the item was “concerned about cases of mentally incapacitated persons handled by the [police], rather than a matter concerning Southern district at the district level”.
Yip did not prepare papers or allocate time for discussion of the matter at the July meeting. On the day, officials and the secretariat officers walked out as councillors moved to discuss the item.
The dispute between the Home Affairs Department and the Southern district council has lingered.
At a council meeting last Thursday, councillors endorsed a motion by a 14-0 vote, asking the chairman to pursue court proceedings to enforce the legal obligations of the secretary in facilitating the council’s functions.
The District Councils Ordinance states that the city’s 18 district councils, each of which has an officer who serves as a link to the government, are to advise on local community matters and focus on livelihood issues.
In his writ, Lo argued that a measure affecting the well-being of people citywide also impacted those living in Southern district.
“It seems to be the first time that [a district council] has taken legal action against the council secretariat,” Lo said of his move. “It is not part of a campaign of the pan-democracy camp to resist the government.
“But you can see it as a test case and if we win this time, the implication may be that the government can no longer refuse to serve the district councils as it likes.
“If the secretary declines to listen to the council, there can be legal consequences.”
In a statement, the Home Affairs Department said it would not comment because legal proceedings were under way.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong elections: pan-democratic camp pledges to focus on residents’ needs, while keeping up pressure on government after district council wins
- Some complaints against Hong Kong police ‘substantiated’ following internal probe of protest conduct, chief says
This article Hong Kong protests: district council chairman sues government secretary over agenda row first appeared on South China Morning Post