UK Government and Parliamentarians express serious concerns during extradition law debates
On 10 June 2019, two debates took place in the United Kingdom House of Commons about Hong Kong’s extradition bill. During the debates, called by Catherine West MP and Alistair Carmichael MP, the UK government expressed serious concerns about the proposals to amend the extradition law, and called for more time and robust human rights safeguards. The Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on China confirmed that the British Chamber of Commerce are privately concerned about the proposals. Separately, the UK Bar Human Rights Committee and the Director of the International Bar Association Human Rights Initiative issued a joint statement.
The Minister for Asia said:
“Many fear above all that Hong Kong nationals and residents risk being pulled into China’s legal system, which can involve lengthy pre-trial detentions, televised confessions and an absence of many of the judicial safeguards that we see in Hong Kong and in the UK. While we welcome recent efforts by the Hong Kong Government to react to the unprecedented level of public concern—of the 7 million people living in Hong Kong, between 300,000 and 1 million were on the streets yesterday—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is clear that the changes proposed fail to address fully some core issues that we and others have raised."
The Liberal Democrat MP, Alistair Carmichael asked whether the UK Government Minister agreed that human rights protections should be written into any legislation. The Minister said:
“Absolutely… We note that the Hong Kong Government have tried to provide reassurance that no one will be transferred to China for political, religious or ethnic reasons. However, we are clear that those reassurances and the changes proposed fail to address fully a number of core issues that we have raised.”
Pressed by Mr Carmichael on the possibility that the measures could be rushed through He continued: “We have urged the Hong Kong Government to allow for a longer consultation period, given the fundamental importance of the issues raised. We believe that the proposals must undergo full and proper scrutiny, including in the Legislative Council, and I am as concerned as the right hon. Gentleman about the notion that they could be rushed through within the next fortnight or so.”
The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for China, Richard Graham MP noted that the British Chamber of Commerce is concerned. In response to a question from Fiona Bruce MP he said:
“It is certainly true that the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong has privately expressed considerable concern over the proposals, and the American Chamber has been more outspoken still.”
Other notable speeches were given by Labour MP, Catherine West MP; the Shadow Asia Minister Helen Goodman, and Steve Double, a Conservative MP.
Catherine West said:
"The law courts on mainland China are seen as an arm of the state. Forced confession is frequently practised and activists often fear imprisonment for crimes they have not committed. Hong Kong’s common law system is not open to such abuse, as the Minister mentioned in his introductory remarks, and although it is under pressure, the separation of powers remains more or less intact. The amendments to the extradition law would significantly compromise the firewall that separates the sharply different systems."
Helen Goodman said:
"These laws constitute not just an erosion but a fundamental breach of the Sino-British declaration and the one country, two systems principle it enshrines. They threaten the judicial independence of Hong Kong.
The warning signs have been coming for several years now: we have seen an increasing crackdown on dissent and protest. Now we face the prospect of a direct line between Beijing and Hong Kong’s courts that could see Hong Kongers sent thousands of miles away to face trial in mainland China’s flawed criminal justice system."
Steve Double said:
"Coincidentally, earlier this afternoon, I met a group of students from Hong Kong who are studying here. They are British national (overseas) passport holders, and they are obviously concerned about the recent developments in relation to China. What consideration has the Department given to the effect that the proposed changes would have on BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong? What steps is the Foreign Office taking to provide ongoing support and advice to BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong?"
Separately, on 11 June 2019, the UK Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) Chair Schona Jolly QC and the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC issued a joint statement.
They said: “Both BHRC and IBAHRI consider that the proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition law, which will broaden the current extradition arrangements to Mainland China and introduce potentially arbitrary assessments, is likely to have the effect that individuals surrendered are at real and serious risk of their human rights being violated.”