Explainer: Understanding Hong Kong's debate around the separation of powers and an executive-led system

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration insist that Hong Kong has an “executive-led” system of government, with no formal separ...


Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration insist that Hong Kong has an “executive-led” system of government, with no formal separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. This seems directly to contradict statements by successive chief justices about guarantees of judicial independence under the doctrine of separate powers.

The issue at the crux of the debate is whether Hong Kong’s system is founded on a common law principle which provides safeguards against the abuse of power. Given the uncertainties surrounding the national security law, there are concerns that Lam’s administration is weakening the checks and balances that guarantee judicial independence and the rule of law.

Police barriers on Legislative Council Road. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP

To understand what’s at stake, HKFP contacted a range of legal scholars and analysed the government’s comments in the context of the Basic Law.

What is the separation of powers?

It is a common law principle which splits governance into three branches: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It prevents each branch from encroaching on the others’ constitutionally-mandated functions, setting up a system of “checks and balances” to guard against an abuse of power by any one branch. It is seen by legal scholars as a crucial foundation for the rule of law.

What does the law say about it?

Basic Law

The city’s mini-constitution was drafted to implement the promises set out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which laid out Beijing’s basic principles regarding the future Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

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Newsrust: Explainer: Understanding Hong Kong's debate around the separation of powers and an executive-led system
Explainer: Understanding Hong Kong's debate around the separation of powers and an executive-led system
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