China slams court decision, says only it can rule on HK constitution

Beijing said the court had overreached in its ruling on the ban. (AP pic)

BEIJING: China insisted Tuesday it held the sole authority to rule on constitutional matters in Hong Kong, as it condemned a decision by the city’s high court to overturn a ban on face masks worn by pro-democracy protesters.

The statement could further fan the flames in Hong Kong after months of violent protests over concerns that Beijing is chipping away at the autonomy of the financial hub.

The ban on face-covering came into force in October, when the city’s unelected pro-Beijing leader invoked colonial-era legislation for the first time in more than 50 years.

The move was seen as a watershed legal moment for the city since its 1997 return by Britain to China – but has been largely symbolic.

The city’s high court ruled on Monday that the government ban on face masks was unconstitutional. But Beijing said the judicial branch of the special administrative region had overreached.

Jian Tiewei, spokesman of the legislative affairs commission of the National People’s Congress standing committee said only the NPC had the right to rule on whether a law is in accordance with the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution.

“No other institution has the right to make judgements or decisions,” Jian said, according to a state media report posted on the NPC’s website.

Jian said the ruling had “severely weakened the governance” of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and the city government.