Survey on public perceptions towards the rule of law in Hong Kong

17 Jan

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre (the Centre) released a ‘Survey on public perceptions towards the rule of law in Hong Kong’ today. Aiming for a better understanding of Hongkongers’ perceptions of the rule of law, the Centre has commissioned the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of The Chinese University of Hong Kong to conduct two rounds of surveys from 26 October to 10 November 2017 and from 8 November to 19 November 2018 respectively through telephone by random sampling. Consequently, a total of 1,008 and 1,005 Hong Kong residents aged 15 or above were successfully interviewed.

The mean scores for all ten aspects of the implementation of the rule of law were above ‘5’ (rated from 0 to 10, with 0=not implemented at all; 5=half-half; and 10=fully implemented), demonstrating that the public was generally positive about the situation.

The Centre’s Vice-Chairman Mr Lau Ming-wai said, ‘The rule of law is the core value of Hong Kong society. It not only transforms the city into a world-renowned financial centre, but also one of the safest cities in the world. However, there is a growing public concern over the rule of law in Hong Kong due to recent controversial cases. By conducting this survey, we aim at constructing evidence-based analysis to evaluate citizens’ perceptions of the rule of law in Hong Kong. Hopefully, by narrowing differences and reaching consensus, it will promote community cohesion and enhance Hong Kong’s long-term competitiveness.’

Gauging public opinion from 4 perspectives and 10 aspects

The survey examined the respondents’ opinions on the rule of law in Hong Kong from the following four perspectives: (1) assessment of different aspects of the implementation of the rule of law in Hong Kong; (2) assessment of level of satisfaction with the general situation of the rule of law in Hong Kong; (3) views on controversial issues relating to the rule of law, and (4) evaluation of the awareness of the rule of law on the part of others and individuals.

By making reference to some international research and taking the local situation into consideration, ten aspects have been identified as indicators to achieve a more comprehensive evaluation, namely ‘prevention of the abuse of power by the government’, ‘anti-corruption’, ‘maintenance of law and order and safety’, ‘facilitation of economic development by the legal system’ (e.g. protection of consumers' rights and business environment), ‘protection of the basic rights of individuals’, ‘government openness’ (e.g. making government information more accessible and engaging with the public), ‘effective enforcement of regulations’ (e.g. implementing regulations without delay, hindrance or interference) , ‘judicial independence’, ‘equality before the law’ and ‘Hong Kong judicial issues were to be handled and resolved on its own’.

1. Assessment of different aspects of the implementation of the rule of law in Hong Kong

Most impressed by maintenance of law and order, and the facilitation of economic development

Results of the two surveys showed that respondents found the implementation of aspects relating to the maintenance of law and order and the facilitation of economic development by legal system most satisfactory, including ‘maintenance of law and order and safety’ [6.83 (6.79)][1] , ‘anti-corruption’ [6.48 (6.48)] and ‘facilitation of economic development by the legal system’ [6.33 (6.36)]. Middle-ranked aspects were those related to the protection of basic rights and the enforcement of the legal system, including ‘protection of the basic rights of individuals’ [6.04 (6.18)], ‘equality before the law’ [6.02 (5.94)], ‘effective enforcement of regulations’ [5.77 (5.71)] and ‘judicial independence’ [5.62 (5.55)]. Comparatively speaking, respondents were least satisfied with the implementation of aspects that were related to politics and government administration, including ‘Hong Kong judicial issues were to be handled and resolved on its own’ [5.30 (5.29)], ‘government openness’ [5.26 (5.30)] and ‘prevention of the abuse of power by the government’ [5.17 (5.23)].

Age, place of birth and political inclination generated notable differences statistically

Statistically significant differences were commonly found in ratings on the implementation of the various aspects of the rule of law among different age groups, places of birth and political inclinations. In general, the older the age, those who were born in the Mainland or favoured the pro-establishment camp gave higher ratings. These variables can be seen as the three most determining socio-economic factors that affect the abovementioned ratings.

‘Judicial independence’ topped the list

Both rounds of surveys demonstrated that more respondents regarded ‘judicial independence’ [19.7% (19.4%)][2] as the most important aspect of the rule of law, with the percentage apparently higher than the remaining aspects. This was followed by ‘equality before the law’ [14.0% (13.8%)], ‘Hong Kong judicial issues were to be handled and resolved on its own’ [13.3% (12.2%)], ‘maintenance of law and order and safety’ [12.3% (14.4%)] and ‘protection of the basic rights of individuals’ [10.2% (10.0%)]. The percentages of these five aspects were higher than 10% in the two rounds of surveys.

2. Assessment of level of satisfaction with the general situation on the rule of law in Hong Kong

About 35% of respondents were satisfied with the general situation of the city’s rule of law

The survey showed that about 35% [34.5% (36.1%)] of respondents were satisfied with the general situation of the rule of law in Hong Kong, whereas about 27% [27.5% (27.3%)] of respondents were dissatisfied with the situation. In both surveys, the percentage distributions were quite alike with those who were satisfied receiving slightly higher percentages. It was observed that those who were aged 55 or above, born in the Mainland, working or in some other non-working status (e.g. homemakers, retirees), or who favoured the pro-establishment camp were more satisfied.

3. Views on controversial issues relating to the rule of law

Over 45% of respondents said no to ‘breaking the law for reasons of social justice is acceptable’

When asked if they agreed to some controversial issues related to the rule of law, over 45% [48.9% (47.5%)] of respondents disagreed with the statement that ‘breaking the law for reasons of social justice is acceptable’. Those who were female, aged 55 or above, with secondary education, born in the Mainland, working or in some other non-working status, or who favoured the pro-establishment camp were particularly against this view. When asked about if ‘the judicial review system is being abused’, the opinions were quite divided with about 30% ‘agree’, ‘half-half’ and ‘disagree’ respectively [32.3%, 30.1% and 32.7% (31.3%, 29.9% and 32.2%)].

Nearly 55% of respondents agreed that people were ‘obliged to obey the law’

A new question on whether people were ‘obliged to obey the law’ was included in the 2018 survey. It showed that 54.4% and 12.8% of respondents agreed and disagreed with the statement respectively. This may suggest that even if they were dissatisfied with certain laws, most respondents still believed that they should stick to the laws.

4. Evaluation of the awareness of the rule of law on the part of others and individuals

Over 35% of respondents thought others had inadequate awareness, while over 40% ‘felt good’ about themselves

Some respondents taking part in the 2017 survey commented that the focus of the questions inclined to institutional level, but neglected people’s awareness of the rule of law. The Centre therefore incorporated the captioned aspect into the 2018 survey.

When asked if Hongkongers’ awareness of the rule of law was adequate, only 20.2% of respondents said yes, while 36.1% and 41.1% said ‘inadequate’ and ‘average/half-half’ respectively. It also showed that respondents with various socio-economic backgrounds shared similar views.

However, when asked about their own awareness of the rule of law, 41.4% of respondents thought their awareness of the rule of law was adequate. The proportions of those who replied ‘inadequate’ and ‘average/half-half’ were 22.5% and 34.9% respectively. Compared to ‘Others’ Awareness’, respondents considered their own awareness to be relatively adequate. Those who had tertiary education or above, or favoured the pro-establishment camp tended to give themselves higher ratings.

In short, the public’s evaluation of the implementation of the rule of law was generally positive. Nevertheless, the less desirable performances of those aspects relating to politics and government administration may weaken the public’s perception of the rule of law in Hong Kong. Based on the analysis of the public’s assessment of the implementation of the rule of law and views on controversial issues relating to the rule of law, statistically significant differences in ratings were observed among different age groups and political inclinations, reflecting that views remain diverse considerably in the society. In the future, when considering conducting a more in-depth review on the same subject, age differences and political divides play indispensable parts.

The Centre’s Director and Convenor of the survey Mr Lawrence Lee concluded, ‘Maintaining the effectiveness of the judicial system is the key to increasing public confidence towards the rule of law in Hong Kong and changing the public’s perception of the rule of law in a more positive light. The Government should promote the public’s awareness of the rule of law, and ultimately to build a more ordered, law-abiding and safer community. This not only encourages social harmony, but also provides a favourable business environment for enterprises, hence ensuring sustainable economic growth.’

1 The former number represents the score from 2018; the number in the parentheses represents the score from 2017.
2 The former number represents the percentage from 2018; the number in the parentheses represents the percentage from 2017.