Margaret Ng: ‘I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first’
The lawyer and pro-democracy activist tells the court why she took part in an unauthorised protest. Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are the most precious rights the people of Hong Kong have. Defending the rule of law may even mean taking to the streets.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Margaret Ng, a Christian barrister and a former lawmaker, was handed down a 12-month suspended prison sentence today for organising and attending an unauthorised assembly on 18 August 2019. She had been convicted along with eight other members of the pro-democracy movement, including Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee and Lee Cheuk-yan. Before the sentence was announced, Ng read a statement of which we publish some passages. Courtesy of Apple Daily.
Your honour, [. . .] My generation were embroiled in finding a way to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms and original way of life after the change of sovereignty. This was so important to all of us that, after I was called to the bar, I did not immediately start to practise, but took up an editorial post in the Ming Pao Daily News, because I accepted that it was critical to Hong Kong’s future to have a strong free press [. . .].
The law should give protection to rights, not take them away, especially in Hong Kong, where structural democracy is still absent. The people relied on the law to protect them, and the courts are the ultimate arbiter of the law. We are mindful that when the court applies a law which takes away fundamental rights, the confidence in the courts and judicial independence is shaken, even though the fault lies in the law, not with the judge who applies it [. . .].
[T]he defence of judicial independence is not for the benefit of judges themselves, but so that they can be in a position fearlessly to uphold the rule of law. [. . .].
I urged the government not to shut out rational discussion for reform, because by its recalcitrance, the government was in danger of creating the very conditions which made civil disobedience inevitable and justifiable: something which none of us wished to see.
[. . .] defending the rule of law means we ourselves must take rights seriously, and that is a lifelong endeavour. There is no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly. Not only is the freedom to speak the truth the core of human dignity, it is also the last safety valve in a democratic society, as remarked by our illustrious judges repeatedly. Respecting those rights is also part and parcel of defending the rule of law.
I had learned that the rule of law not only has to be defended in court, or in LegCo, but also in the streets and in the community. [. . .].
When the people, in the last resort, had to give collective expression to their anguish and urge the government to respond, protected only by their expectation that the government will respect their rights, I must be prepared to stand with them, stand by them and stand up for them. Otherwise, all my pledges and promises would be just empty words.
[. . .] the Hong Kong people is a peace-loving and well-disciplined people. Their resolute self-restraint even in highly emotional situations has been proved time and again. In the critical hours of the handover between 30 June and 1 July 1997, the great event passed without a hitch. In the march of half a million on 1 July 2003, not a single pane of glass was broken. Even in 2019, when over 1 million marched on 9 June, and over 2 million marched on 16 June. The peace and good order of the massive crowds astonished and won the admiration of the world.
And in the incident of the present trial, this was demonstrated again. By the estimation of the organizers, over 1.7 million participated in the day’s event. But whatever the exact figure, the huge and dense crowds in and around the venue, the resolute patience with which the crowds waited in the pouring rain, were captured in undisputed footages preserved for all posterity.
The number and the perseverance spoke volumes for the intensity of the feelings in the community, and yet the self-restraint was for all to see. It is not disputed even by the prosecution that the event was entirely peaceful and orderly, without any untoward event. The crowd had kept faith with the organizers who enjoined them to be “peaceful, rational and non-violent”. At such times we cannot be seen to abandon the people but must stand side by side with them, in the hope that peace may prevail.
The positive effect of the peacefulness of that demonstration was acknowledged by the CE, Mrs Carrie Lam 2 days later, remarking that it would facilitate dialogue between government and the public. In the event, the dialogue on that occasion did not continue for long, but it was a step in the right direction. [. . .].
I came late to the law. I have grown old in the service of the rule of law. I understand Sir Thomas More is the patron saint of the legal profession. He was tried for treason because he would not bend the law to the King’s will. His famous last words were well authenticated. I beg to slightly adapt and adopt them: I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first. For the law must serve the people, not the people the law.