Provisional Legislative Council
PLC Paper No. 283/96-97
Paper for the House Committee
Meeting on 24 May 1997
Legal Adviser (Bills Committee)'s Report
on Societies (Amendment) Bill 1997
Objects of the Bill
To amend the Societies Ordinance (Cap. 151) (the Ordinance) so as to put in place a registration system for societies instead of the existing notification system as amended in 1992.
Provisional Legislative Council Brief Reference
2.A Brief for Provisional Legislative Council on Societies (Amendment) Bill 1997 and Public Order (Amendment) Bill 1997 issued by the Chief Executive's Office (CE's Office) dated 15 May 1997.
Date of First Reading
3.17 May 1997.
4.In 1992, the Ordinance was amended to replace the registration system of societies by the notification system. The purpose of the amendment was to ensure that provisions in the Ordinance were not inconsistent with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as applied to Hong Kong.
5.On 23 February 1997, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) resolved that major amendments to the Ordinance introduced in 1992 shall not be adopted as the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). It also resolved that the HKSAR should enact laws on its own to avoid legal vacuum arising on 1 July 1997.
6.This Bill seeks to reinstate the registration system for societies which was repealed in 1992. In Clause 3, new definitions of "connection", "election", "exempted society", "foreign political organization", "political body", "political organization of Taiwan" and 'specified form" are added.
7.In Clause 3(4), it is provided that the expressions "public safety", "public order (ordre public)" and "the protection of freedoms and rights of others' are to be interpreted in the same way as under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as applied to Hong Kong. The term "national security" is specifically defined as the safeguarding of the territorial integrity and the independence of PRC.
8.The Societies Officer may exempt a society or a branch from registration if that society is established solely for religious, charitable, social or recreational purposes or as a rural committee or a federation or other association of rural committees (new section 5A(2)). Such clause could be found in the Ordinance before its amendment in 1992.
9.For other societies not being exempted societies, the Societies Officer may then register such societies or branches or he may refuse to register such societies if, after consultation with the Secretary for Security, he finds-
- that the registration of the society or the branch is prejudicial to national security or public safety , public order (ordre public) or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others; or
- that the society or the branch is a political body and has a connection with a foreign political organization or a political organization of Taiwan.
10.Should a society be found to have been a society as mentioned in the above paragraph, the Societies Officer may, after consultation with the Secretary for Security, cancel the registration or exemption from registration of a society or branch.
11.If a society fails to comply with the registration system, every office-bearer commits an offence (new section 5C).
12. Consequential amendments are also made to the Companies Ordinance (Cap. 32) to prevent circumvention of the provisions in the Ordinance. The Chief Executive in Council will have powers to order the Registrar of Companies to refuse registration of a company or to order the company to be struck off if the company in question seeks to circumvent the provisions of the Ordinance.
13.Any person aggrieved by a decision of the Societies Officer may appeal to the Chief Executive in Council within 30 days of the date of notice of the decision of the Societies Officer (new section 5B and 5E).
14.Clause 11 amends section 15 to permit the Societies Officer to call for details of the income, sources of income and expenditure of a society. Such particulars were not required under the Ordinance before it was amended in 1992.
15.Any society which has notified the Societies Officer prior to 1 July 1997 is taken to have complied with the registration requirements on 1 July 1997 and therefore these amendments apply only to the establishment of new societies (Clause 16).
16.According to the Brief, a Consultation Document on "Civil Liberties and Social Order" (the Consultation Document) was published on 9 April 1997 and the CE's Office received over 5,000 submissions on the Consultation Document.
Consultation with Provisional Legislative Council
17.The Provisional Legislative Council held a motion debate on the Consultation Document on 10 May 1997. Over 20 Members expressed their opinion on this issue. In response, the Secretary for Policy Co-ordination, Mr Michael SUEN, gave a reply to the Provisional Legislative Council explaining the principles adopted for amending the Ordinance. He also explained the definitions of "national security", "political organization" and "connection".
18.During the House Committee Meeting held on 17 May 1997, Members agreed that a Bills Committee be set up to examine this Bill. Members may consider the Bill from both the legal and the policy aspects.
HO Ying-chu, Anita
Legal Adviser (Bills Committee)
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
20 May 1997