In February 2018, a murder case in Taiwan shocked and saddened many Hong Kong people. A young Hong Kong lady was killed, and the suspect fled back to Hong Kong. The case caused deep sorrow to the victim’s parents, while at the same time revealed a clear loophole in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG)’s regime with respect to mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and the surrender of fugitive offenders. The deficiencies in HKSARG’s regime include, first, with the “geographical restriction” in the current law, it is not possible to transfer a suspect to Taiwan or the neighbouring Mainland and Macao. Secondly, there is no workable arrangement for the surrender of fugitive offenders with some 170 jurisdictions which have not entered into a long-term agreement with Hong Kong.
The two original purposes of the Government in putting forward the legislative proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance were to find a way to deal with the Taiwan murder case so that justice could be done for the deceased, her parents and society, while at the same time addressed the deficiencies in HKSARG’s system so that Hong Kong would not become a place for criminals to evade legal responsibility.
After careful examination of the relevant laws and the practices of other jurisdictions, the legislative amendment exercise started in Hong Kong in February 2019. The proposal was based on the existing legislation, with the relevant human rights safeguards and procedural safeguards, including the role of the court and the fair and impartial judicial system of Hong Kong, being fully maintained. Government officials discussed with various sectors of the community in a rational manner and listened to their views on the legislative proposal.
After listening to the views of society, the HKSARG had introduced amendments to the proposal on two occasions. The first occasion was before the introduction of the bill, when nine categories of offences were taken out from the list of offences subject to surrender, and lifted the threshold for punishment of the offences from imprisonment for more than one year to more than three years. The second occasion was after the introduction of the bill in the Legislative Council, when the threshold was increased from more than three years to not less than seven years, as well as introduced a number of additional human rights safeguards that are in line with international standards. The amendments were made to ease the concerns of society.
Although many people agreed with the two original purposes, there were still supporting views and opposing ones on the bill, and their stances were very often polarised. After repeated internal deliberations, the Chief Executive announced on June 15 that the Government had decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise. Thereafter, the Government has clearly indicated on many occasions that all legislative work in relation to the amendment of the FOO has completely stopped.
On September 4, the Chief Executive presented four actions to foster dialogue that could help society move forward. First, the Fugitive Offenders Bill will be formally withdrawn in order to fully allay public concerns. Second, the Government will fully support the work of the Independent Police Complaints Council. The third action is to begin direct dialogue with the community from September. The fourth action will be to invite community leaders, professionals and academics to independently examine and review society's deep-seated problems and to advise the Government on finding solutions.