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The Basic Law of Hong Kong

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Today is the 18th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). It is a statutory holiday in Hong Kong, as provided in the General Holidays Ordinance, in commemoration of Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997. On that same day, the constitutional document of the HKSAR, the Basic Law of Hong Kong, went into effect.

HKSAR Flag, Photo by Flickr user Neerav Bhatt, Nov. 2, 2012. Used under Creative Commons license,
Hong Kong Flag, Photo by Flickr user Neerav Bhatt, Nov. 2, 2012. Used under Creative Commons license,

Although it is part of China, Hong Kong remained a common law jurisdiction after 1997, and the laws of China are largely not applicable in Hong Kong. This is actually written in the Basic Law.  Under article 2 of the Law, the National People’s Congress (NPC) authorizes the HKSAR to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law.

The Basic Law further provides that the laws previously in force in Hong Kong, including the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation and customary law shall be maintained. These laws cannot contravene the Basic Law, and are subject to any amendments made by the legislature of the HKSAR. (Basic Law, art. 8.) National laws of China applicable in HKSAR are listed in Annex III to the Basic Law, and these are to be applied locally by way of promulgation or legislation by the Region. (Id. art. 18.)

The Basic Law was officially promulgated by the NPC on April 4, 1990. With its coming into effect on July 1, 1997, the Law replaced the Letters Patent and Royal Instructions that were previously in force in Hong Kong. The Basic Law is founded on the concept of “One Country, Two Systems,” guaranteeing that the Chinese socialist system and policies will not be applied in Hong Kong. It prescribes the relationship between China’s central authority and the HKSAR, the protection of individual rights and freedoms, and the HKSAR’s political structure, economy, education, culture, external affairs, etc.

The following materials held by the Law Library of Congress provide detailed information on the Basic Law of Hong Kong:

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