A coalition of lawmakers, activists and civil society groups have said that the ongoing consultation for two reform proposals – an archives law, and an access to information law – should be extended for another two months.

Public consultation on the two proposals began last December and was intended to last three months. However, the arrangement was criticised on Wednesday by lawmakers Charles Mok and Tanya Chan, along with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), the Archives Action Group (AAG) and the Progressive Lawyers Group.

The groups said they had previously written to Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, who chairs the Law Reform Commission, to ask for a time extension but were rejected.

Activists, politicians and scholars have called for an archives law for more than a decade, arguing that it would help preserve key documents in Hong Kong’s history and increase the government’s accountability. They have also criticised the existing access to information regime as inadequate and urged reform.

Public forum

HKJA Vice-chairperson Shirley Yam said that the two proposals will have a direct impact on the work of journalists, and asked for more public scrutiny.

“The two documents by the Law Reform Commission had 17 and 20 discussion questions respectively,” she said. “HKJA’s working group spent more than two hours just to discuss the 12 absolute exemptions.”

According to Yam, the Law Reform Commission said in a written reply: “because the two sub-committees are eager to receive public feedback as soon as possible, and because we have already received some very substantive comments, it may be premature to consider extending the consultation period by two months.”

Archives law consultation paper

Archives law consultation paper. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The coalition has launched an online petition to call for an extension, and will hold a public forum next month on the topic. The groups have invited a representative from the Law Reform Commission to attend, Yam said.

Lawyer Maurice Chan from AAG said that it was rare for the government to put out two consultation papers on the same day. The two documents totalled 453 pages, and the three-month consultation period spanned two public holidays, Chan said.

“The [Law Reform Commission] working group spent five years conducting its study. Concerned members of the public need more time to digest the technical details in the report,” he said.

Lawmakers Tanya Chan and Charles Mok also pointed to inadequacies in the existing system, such as the government refusing to release statistics on a primary school public exam and occupancy rates of private hospitals.

Article originally appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on 31 January 2019