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From 26 January 1841 to 30 June 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony and its first constitution, in the form of Queen Victoria's Letters Patent entitled the Charter of the Colony of Hong Kong and proclaimed at the Government House on 26 June 1843, authorized the establishment of the Legislative Council and empowered "the Governor for the time being ... with the advice of the said Legislative Council ... to make and enact all such Laws and Ordinances as may from time to time be required for the peace, order and good government ... of Hong Kong". The Letters Patent of 1888, which replaced the 1843 Charter, added the significant words "and consent" after the words "with the advice".

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997. Under the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China ("the Basic Law"), which came into effect on the same day, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ("HKSAR") is vested with legislative power and the Legislative Council is the legislature of the HKSAR.

Articles 66 to 79 of the Basic Law provide for, among other matters, the formation, term of office, powers and functions of the Legislative Council. The main functions of the Legislative Council are to enact, amend or repeal laws; examine and approve budgets, taxation and public expenditure; and raise questions on the work of the government. In addition, the Legislative Council is also given the power to endorse the appointment and removal of the judges of the Court of Final Appeal and the Chief Judge of the High Court, as well as the power to impeach the Chief Executive.

The Legislative Council has undergone great changes over the past one and a half centuries and evolved from being an advisory body to a legislature with powers and functions to render checks and balances on the executive authorities. The following chronicles the evolution of the Legislative Council from 1843:

Year
Issues
1843 The Legislative Council was established under British rule with four Official Members (including the Governor who was President and Member).
1844 The Council held its first meeting.
1850 The first two Unofficial Members were appointed.
1857 An additional two Official Members and one Unofficial Member were appointed.
1884 The Council was enlarged to comprise seven Official Members and five Unofficial Members, including a Chinese.
1896 The Council was further enlarged and consisted of eight Official Members and six Unofficial Members.
1929 The Council comprised 10 Official Members and eight Unofficial Members, including three Chinese and one Portuguese.
1976 There were a maximum of 23 Official Members (including five ex officio) and 23 Unofficial Members.
1983 There were a maximum of 29 Official Members (including four ex officio) and 29 Unofficial Members.
1984 There were a maximum of 29 Official Members (including four ex officio) and 32 Unofficial Members.
1985 The first ever elections to the Council were held. After the elections, there were 11 Official Members (including four ex officio), and 46 Unofficial Members, of whom 22 were appointed by the Governor, 12 elected from functional constituencies, one elected from among members of the Urban Council, one elected from among members of the Regional Council, and 10 elected by an electoral college constituency made up of members of all district boards.
1988 Two more elected Members were returned from the functional constituencies replacing two appointed seats.
1991 A Deputy President was appointed by the Governor from among the Members to chair the sittings. There were four ex officio Members (including the Governor who remained President and Member but systematically absented himself from sittings), 18 appointed Members, and 39 elected Members (21 were elected from functional constituencies and 18 by direct elections in geographical constituencies).
1993 The Governor ceased to be a Member of the Legislative Council and handed over the Presidency in February to a Member elected from among the non-official Members.
1995 The last Legislative Council under British rule became a fully elected legislature. Among its 60 Members, 30 came from functional constituencies, 20 were returned by direct elections in geographical constituencies, and 10 were elected by the Election Committee constituency. The President was elected from among the Members.
1996 The Provisional Legislative Council ("PLC") was established by the Preparatory Committee for the HKSAR by resolution at its Second Plenary Session on 24 March 1996. The 60 Members in the PLC were elected on 21 December 1996 by the 400-member Selection Committee for the First Government of the HKSAR, which also elected the first Chief Executive.
1997 On 25 January 1997, the PLC convened its first meeting in Shenzhen to elect the President. It continued to hold its meetings in Shenzhen until the establishment of the HKSAR on 1 July 1997, when it started to hold its meetings in Hong Kong.
1998 The elections for the first term of the Legislative Council of the HKSAR were held on 24 May 1998. Under the Basic Law, there were 60 Members in the first term of the Legislative Council, with 20 Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections, 10 Members by an Election Committee, and 30 Members by functional constituencies. The President was elected from among the Members. The first term of the Legislative Council was for two years, starting from 1 July 1998.
2000 The elections for the second term of the Legislative Council of the HKSAR were held on 10 September 2000. According to the Basic Law, the Legislative Council in the second term was composed of 60 Members, with 24 Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections, six Members by an Election Committee, and 30 Members by functional constituencies. The term of office was four years; the second term started from 1 October 2000.
2004 The elections for the third term of the Legislative Council of the HKSAR were held on 12 September 2004. There were 60 Members: 30 Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and 30 Members returned by functional constituencies. The term of office was four years; the third term started from 1 October 2004.
2008 The elections for the fourth term of the Legislative Council of the HKSAR were held on 7 September 2008. There were 60 Members: 30 Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and 30 Members returned by functional constituencies. The term of office was four years; the fourth term started from 1 October 2008.
2012 The elections for the fifth term of the Legislative Council of the HKSAR were held on 9 September 2012. There are now 70 Members: 35 Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and 35 Members returned by functional constituencies. The term of office is four years; the fifth term started from 1 October 2012.