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Hong Kong court hears arguments on legislature’s legality

July 23, 1997

HONG KONG (AP) _ Faced with a challenge that could paralyze the legal system, the government’s top lawyer has told the Court of Appeal that it has no power to rule on the legality of Hong Kong’s new non-elected legislature.

China replaced Hong Kong’s elected legislature with an appointed one after the July 1 handover, a move that has been strongly criticized by democrats. China said it acted because it had not consented to the way the legislature was elected under British rule.

Critics of the new legislature, which is stacked with China’s political allies, claim it has no basis in the Basic Law, China’s constitution for Hong Kong.

The challenge arose when lawyers for three men charged in a corruption case argued that their client’s indictment lapsed with the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty.

They also claimed the new legislature had failed to explicitly state that Hong Kong law, which is derived from Britain’s common law, was in effect after the sovereignty switch.

Solicitor-General Daniel Fung attacked what he said was the ``utter futility of the defense exercise,″ telling the appeals court Tuesday that the Basic Law and the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration both had provided for ``a seamless transition″ from British to Chinese rule.

A key to that transition was the virtually wholesale adoption of pre-handover laws, Fung said.

The question could be appealed further to Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. The only appeal beyond that is to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, which created the provisional legislature and would be certain to uphold its legitimacy.

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