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More than Words

Every word in provisions of law is laid down on paper and made open to the public so that everything is crystal clear, thus safeguarding the rights of members of the public and ensuring that they will not break the law because of incomprehensibility.

However, provisions are words in essence. With changes in society and differences across cultures, the same words can be interpreted in different ways.

Having been under British rule in the colonial era and returned to China’s sovereignty, all provisions of law in Hong Kong, a small port, had to be made bilingual from the original English version. Imagine how you would express in Chinese the meaning of “addition”, which concerns the extra vending space of hawkers. Moreover, what is the official Chinese term for “easement”, which underlines the right that allows you to pass by your neighbour’s property every day?

This kind of conflict is not unique in bilingual provisions. Ambiguity is in fact rampant even in the Chinese provisions alone. In a real case, for example, a family engaged representative visiting service for their imprisoned family member. Yet, the Government believed that the law merely provided for visits by relatives and friends of a prisoner. If a person was not a personal acquaintance known to the prisoner, they were not friends. After 7 years of legal proceedings, the judge at the Court of Final Appeal returned to the basics and analysed the intention behind the provisions in question.

Provisions in law are formed by words, the presence of which inevitably gives rise to ambiguity. When we encounter ambiguity and choose to take the matter to court, effort and time have to be put in, so as to eliminate ambiguity. Meanwhile, however, the truth will be clearer upon presentation of arguments.

A Legal Journey 2019 (English Version)

The rule of law is a core value of Hong Kong as well as a cornerstone of the city’s prosperity. To uphold this value and safeguard our system, HKU Faculty of Law is instrumental by nurturing not only members of the legal profession but also committed community leaders.

Through the 6-episode TV docudrama “A Legal Journey”, let us trace the journey of local legal education in the past five decades and how it contributes to the legal system and the rule of law in Hong Kong when meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing environment.

“A Legal Journey” will be aired on Thursday, 15 August 2019 at 5:30pm on RTHK31 for six consecutive weeks.
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