When a government proposal for new legislation is put forward, the drafting counsel liaises with those making the proposal to gain a thorough understanding of the background and intended effect of the proposal. The drafting counsel also analyses the drafting instructions carefully to ensure that the proposal is conceptually sound and legally effective. “Drafting instructions” refers to the document prepared for the drafting counsel by the responsible policy bureau which sets out the background to the proposal and what the bureau wishes to achieve with the new legislation. The drafting instructions also specify which existing provisions need to be amended in order to achieve that end.
After the proposed legislation is drafted, the drafting counsel assists in steering it through the legislative process. In the case of government Bills and subsidiary legislation to be made by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Executive Council, the legislation will be submitted to the Executive Council for consideration. The drafting counsel attends the Executive Council meetings to provide advice on general legal issues and drafting matters.
Usually, a Bills Committee (made up of Members of the Legislative Council with an interest in the particular policy area or the subject of the Bill) will be established to consider a Bill after it has been introduced into the Legislative Council. The drafting counsel attends the Bills Committee meetings to provide advice on general legal issues and drafting matters. (If the English text and Chinese text of the Bill are drafted by two different counsel, both drafting counsel will attend the Bills Committee meetings.) The drafting counsel also drafts all committee stage amendments which are proposed, or agreed to, by the government. These amendments are considered and decided upon (at the stage when the Legislative Council sits as a Committee of the whole Council) before the Bill is put to the vote for its final reading in the Legislative Council meeting.
Likewise, if an item of subsidiary legislation is laid on the table of the Legislative Council, a sub-committee made up of Members of the Legislative Council may be set up to scrutinize it. The drafting counsel attends the sub-committee meetings and draft any amendments which the government may require.
Apart from drafting legislation for policies initiated by the government, the division also undertakes any drafting work necessary to apply to Hong Kong relevant national laws of the PRC (that is, those listed in Annex III to the Basic Law).
As Hong Kong’s legislation is drafted and enacted in both Chinese and English and they are equally authentic, drafting counsel must ensure that the text in each language bears the same meaning and correctly reflects the policy intention.