Explainer: Hong Kong Government’s Request for NPCSC Interpretation of National Security Law in Jimmy Lai Case

Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon, has been indicted on four national security charges and was scheduled to stand trial on Thursday. (The government has asked the court to postpone the trial in light of the development discussed below.) He is being accused of violating Hong Kong’s seditious publications law and of conspiring to “collude with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security” under the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR (NSL) [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法].

Recently, Lai retained Timothy Owen, an experienced British barrister, to lead his defense team. Owen, as one Hong Kong court recognized, is a “renowned specialist in criminal, public and human rights law, with substantial experience in cases concerning national security and freedom of speech.” He has appeared before Hong Kong courts in the past but is not admitted to the Hong Kong bar. Over the Hong Kong government’s objection, the Court of First Instance allowed Owen to represent Lai on an ad hoc basis. After having suffered a streak of losses on appeal, the government on Monday decided to seek help from the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), which has the ultimate authority to interpret the NSL. Below, we will discuss the legal battle fought in Hong Kong courts, the government’s request for NPCSC intervention, and what to expect next.

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2021 Legal Inquiry Responses: Enforcing New Ban on Entertainment Venues Near Kindergartens & Municipal Legislative Authority to Support the Private Sector

On July 11, 2022, the NPC Standing Committee’s Legislative Affairs Commission (Commission) released two of its “legal inquiry responses” [法律询问答复] issued during the past year. As we have discussed in depth in this post, such responses clarify the applicable law in real-world scenarios at the request of central governmental bodies or provincial legislatures. They are not universally binding, but are considered highly persuasive—hence a form of “soft law”—because of the Commission’s pivotal role in lawmaking. The batch released on Monday is smaller than those released in previous years, but most likely only represents a minuscule portion of all legal inquiry responses the Commission issued in 2021. The two selected responses concern, respectively, the enforcement of a new statutory prohibition on entertainment venues near kindergartens and the extent of a municipal legislature’s authority to promote the private sector of the local economy. We explain them in turn below.

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Translation: Readout of October 2021 Central Conference on Work Related to the People’s Congresses

Two months ago, on October 13–14, the Communist Party held the first-ever “Central Conference on Work Related to the People’s Congresses” [中央人大工作会议]. In the lead-up to the Conference and in the months since, the concept of “whole-process people’s democracy” [全过程人民民主] has permeated official discourse and was recently further expounded on in a government white paper titled China: Democracy That Works (the Chinese title, “中国的民主” (China’s Democracy), is blander). That concept requires further study and assessment, and the Conference could prove significant in additional ways, especially for the people’s congress system. We thus translated the readout of the Conference (via Xinhua) below, while we await, hopefully, the release of the full text of Xi Jinping’s speech at the Conference on which the readout is largely based.

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2020 Legal Inquiry Responses: Marriage Age for Ethnic Minorities, Rescheduling Local People’s Congress Elections & More

Photo by Andy Wong (Associated Press), via NYT

On April 1, the NPC Standing Committee’s Legislative Affairs Commission (Commission) made public six of its “responses to legal inquiries” [法律询问答复] from 2020. It last released a batch of such responses from 2018 and 2019 in September 2020, after a thirteen-year hiatus. As we wrote then, these responses to legal inquiries can be considered a form of “soft law”: they answer other governmental bodies’ requests to clarify the applicable law in real-world scenarios and can function like the NPC Standing Committee’s legislative interpretations. The inquiring governmental bodies tend to follow the responses, but they do not bind anyone else. Still, they are considered highly persuasive because of the Commission’s pivotal role in lawmaking. The responses released on Thursday touched on a few different subjects: postponing local legislative sessions due to Covid-19, governance of for-profit private schools, ethnic autonomous regions’ legislative authority, terms of supervision commissions, and rescheduling elections for local people’s congresses. We will summarize and explain these Q&As below.

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NPC Launches Official Chinese Law Database: A Guide & Review

The National People’s Congress (NPC) on Wednesday, February 24 formally launched a database of Chinese legal authorities: the National Database of Laws and Regulations [国家法律法规数据库]. The Database has been years in the making. According to the Legal Daily, work on it started in November 2017 and was scheduled to complete by end of 2018. Yet it ended up taking a lot longer—and as we will discuss below, the Database still has had a bumpy start. In this post, we will introduce the types of legal authorities currently available in the Database. We will then discuss its three main functions: browsing, search, and download. And we will end with some concluding thoughts on the Database and look ahead to its future versions. The bottom line: the Database in its current form will not be our go-to platform for looking up Chinese legal documents.

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