The 36th Graduation Ceremony Acceptance Speech of Dr. Elsie Leung


Ms Leung

The Hon. Secretary for Justice, Prof. the Hon. Louis Cha, Dr. Henry H L Hu, Dr. Chung Chi Yung, Vice Presidents, Professors, Lecturers and Students of Shue Yan University, Ladies & Gentlemen,

I stand before you feeling much honoured and humbled for the conferment on me of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by the Shue Yan University.  I am particularly humbled because the honour is bestowed on me at the same time as the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, conferred on Prof. the Hon. Louis Cha, GBM, a much more deserving recipient.

Professor Cha, as you all know, is one of the maestros in modern Chinese literature, whose numerous epic novels have influenced at least three generations of Chinese readers and are translated into different languages, and transformed into movies and TV series.  The surreal characters of his novels, many of them displaying love, righteousness and patriotism, have fascinated young and old alike, have captivated the hearts of many and stimulated their hopes and dreams.  Prof. Cha has, of course, in addition to being a novelist, also been a distinguished journalist and scholar, and has been attending courses in world famous universities, a true believer in life-long learning. Furthermore, Professor Cha is a Hong Kong resident, and we are particularly honoured that he has chosen Hong Kong as his home.

The award of Doctor of Laws honoris causa reminds me of my obligation in upholding the rule of law, which is the obligation I have, not as the former Secretary for Justice, nor as the Vice Director of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee, but as a citizen. People talk about the rule of law, but many do not know exactly what it means.  Some simply equate it with justice, but the rule of law has many meanings and corollaries. In brief, it means that everything must be done in accordance with the law, i.e. the principle of legality.  It means every one is equal before the law.  In the context of the Government, its powers must derive from the law and be exercised in accordance with the law.  Even where the Government is vested with certain discretionary powers, such discretion must be exercised judiciously and with procedural propriety.  Citizens have the right to challenge in courts the legality of acts of the government (including the validity of the law under which it acts) and all disputes – whether between citizens and the government or between citizen and citizen – are to be decided by an independent judiciary.  Justice must be reasonably speedy and legal services accessible.  The law should be even-handed between the Government and the citizens, striking a balance between the needs of fair and effective administration and the rights of the individual, and laws must be understandable and their text available to all citizens. It goes without saying that laws must be made by a democratic representative legislature and should be acceptable tothe majority of the people.

The rule of law, as well as fundamental rights and freedoms, are the cornerstones of our society.  It is something that we all treasure and are proud of.  We have a constitutional instrument, i.e., the Basic Law, which sets out the structure of our judiciary, that judges are independent so that they may adjudicate without fear or favour; that prosecutors may make decision on whether or not to prosecute without any interference and that citizens’ rights are set out in and protected by Chapter 3 of the Basic Law.  No law enacted by our legislature may contravene the Basic Law.  We have in our judiciary judges of high calibre and integrity, a fair and efficient prosecution service, and an independent legal profession, and they keep pace with the development of our society in knowledge and technique.  We have a clean government and an effective anti-corruption department, well trained law enforcement agencies and a free press.

But a society of the rule of law depends not only on good judges, a good prosecution service and lawyers, and good law enforcement agencies. It is all the more important to have a community of law-abiding citizens to whom the observance of the rule of law is part of their every day life, and an administration that supports the rule of law in the exercise of its powers.  Citizens must also know their rights and be ready to stand up for them.

For over two thousand years, there has been a debate in China between the followers of Confucianism and Legalism as to whether people should be governed by rites (li) or by laws (fa).  According to Confucianism, if people observe rites, they would acquire virtues and would behave themselves.  Legalism teaches that people must be regulated by law, otherwise they would become corrupt and misbehave.  I have no intention of going into a debate on which of the two doctrines is more acceptable.  I am inclined to believe that both morality and law are just as important in a society of the rule of law.  However, in a simple society where people could reach consensus easily over their standard of conduct, it would not be difficult for them to abide by what they agreed to be acceptable and what not.  In a modern society where there is diversity of opinion in almost every aspect of life, it would be chaotic if people’s conduct were left to their individual sense of value.  There need to be laws by which their conduct will be judged.  Furthermore, unless there is stability in a society, it would be difficult for the rule of law to prevail.  An example is the total destruction and rebuilding of China’s legal system in the first 30 tumultuous years of its modern history.  Every one agrees that the Cultural Revolution should never be allowed to happen again.

The rule of law, therefore, is not merely a high sounding slogan, to be flaunted about whenever it fits in with one’s argument or preference.  It is a culture that is acquired through ages of education, tradition and practice.  It depends not only on a few good judges like Judge Pao Qing Tien, or a few good lawyers like Sir Patrick Hastings and Perry Mason, or closer at home, Mr. Patrick Yu – I am sure many of you have read his books entitled “The Seventh Child and the Law” and “Tales from No. 9 Ice House Street”.  It is only when people respect and abide by the law and transform that belief into their daily behaviour that we have a society of the rule of law. We treasure what we have achieved, but unless our younger generations also cherish the rule of law, it will diminish like everything else in an ever changing world.  If we are not alert enough and appreciate its importance, there is always the risk that the rule of law may be sidestepped, perhaps for the purpose of expediency.  The obligation is therefore on all of us and all future citizens of Hong Kong to do our part in upholding the rule of law.

Once again, I thank the Shue Yan University for bestowing on me the Degree of the Dr. of Laws, honoris causa.  Throughout my life, I have shied away from  the limelight, except when I accidentally plunged into public office and unavoidably must be accountable to the public.  Occasionally, I staggered into errands that were not preplanned and had to struggle to accomplish them, as a matter of survival.  Sometimes I made it, other times not.   Nonetheless, I enjoy the things I see, the work I do, and more importantly, meeting such nice people along the road.  That makes life interesting.

When writing the acceptance speech, I was wondering whether there is any similarity between Prof. Cha and myself, and it was so difficult to find any, because he is crowned with an aurora of achievements and I am so lack- lustre.  However, I found one thing in common between us, with which I hope he will agree, that is, we both enjoy life and find it interesting and are not intimidated by the flying of time.  We still keep on learning, we still keep on working, and we love what we have found.  For that, I wish to replace the Chinese saying :  “Alas the infinite glory of the setting sun, regrettably it is near the falling of the dusk,” with “Hail to the infinite glory of the setting sun.  Regret not the falling of the dusk.” (夕陽無限好,管它近黄昏。)

Thank you.

來源:《樹仁簡訊》12月號 [只有英文]

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