In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt said of Christmas, “it is well for all humanity to remind itself that while this is in its name a Christian celebration, it is participated in reverently and happily by hundreds of millions of people who are members of other religions, or belong actively to no church at all. The reason is not far to seek. It is because the spirit of unselfish service personified by the life and the teachings of Christ makes appeal to the inner conscience and hope of every man and every woman in every part of the earth.”
Repeated scenes of violence, vandalism and arson in parts of Hong Kong have shocked the city’s law-abiding citizens. Christmas, which symbolises a celebration of faith and hope, is arriving soon as a timely reminder that we must not lose sight of these important messages, notwithstanding that we are facing the biggest challenge in the city’s history.
In this growingly divided world, conflicts rather than compromises are being celebrated. Extreme ideas gather more “likes” and followers than balanced and rational views, pushing the society to extreme and polarised positions. Some factions even resort to violence to suppress differences, under the disguise of protecting human rights and freedoms in defence of the rule of law.
There are two frequently repeated fallacies about the rule of law, which seem to be widely spread among the public and which must be corrected.
The first fallacy is to brand the rule of law as a justification of not following the law. It is against the very concept of the rule of law to break the law. Political disagreement cannot justify arson, vandalism of public and private properties or inflicting injuries on others. These are serious crimes and not heroic acts. It is against every rule of civilisation to attack fellow citizens simply because they take a different political view.
No one should take the law into their own hands on the pretext that they think they have a right moral cause. As Professor H L A Hart rightly pointed out that like a game of chess, there are rules that we have to follow. Following rules is by itself an important element of the concept of rule of law. Recently, the Speaker of the House of Commons of the Parliament in the United Kingdom, Mr. John Bercow, rightly reminded many, including
Mr. Boris Johnson that adherence to the law is non-negotiable. It needs no reminder that there will hardly be any rule of law if everyone decides to have his or her own set of rules.
The second fallacy is to advocate that the rule of law will not be affected so long as a person who commits arson, vandalism or injuries on others claims that he or she is willing to face the legal consequences, ie any sentencing by the court. Crimes are crimes and they must not be committed no matter what the alleged motives are.
As legal professionals, whose duties are owed not just to the Court but to the community in general, we should not keep silent in the face of violence. We should not turn a blind eye to the misunderstanding about the rule of law. As the saying goes, an eye for an eye and the world will be blind. We must use our professional knowledge to help educate the public and spread a proper understanding of the rule of law. We must not allow any irresponsible and selfish preaching of legal misconception that poison our future generations. Through our united effort, let us put a stop to it.
Since June 2019, the Law Society of Hong Kong has issued six press statements to condemn all forms of violence, call for the respect of the rule of law and urge the Government to take swift action to address people’s various concerns.
The recent events in Hong Kong have given us a real context to debate the different facets of the meaning of the rule of law. It is a valuable lesson to us all. Through the process, we come to cherish the importance of the rule of law more than ever with an enlightening realisation and a stronger commitment that no one can afford to take it for granted. Without this important pillar, everything else in society will crumble.
Christmas is just around the corner. In the spirit of love, joy and peace of the holy celebration, let us share and reinforce our faith in the strength of the rule of law that Hong Kong has been proud of and hope that the city we love will soon return to its once orderly and peaceful state in the very near future.