In my blog entry yesterday, I talked about asking a good question. This is a very useful skill, especially for teachers, whose job is a matter of provoking thinking and inspiring learning.
In a seminar on the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region I recently attended, the speaker demonstrated how he was able to put the skill into good use.
Having been invited by the HKSAR Government to conduct the seminar, it was not appropriate for the speaker, a professor of a local university, to speak negatively about the Basic Law. But he cleverly began the seminar by asking the participants to bear the question “Is the Basic Law a good constitutional law?” in mind as we listened to him introduce its provisions and try to answer it. Towards the end of the seminar, he re-visited the question and reminded the participants to think about it. This question was an excellent class assignment, one that should get the students to reap the benefit from the seminar by paying attention to the speaker’s elucidation and thinking critically about it.
As I left the lecture theatre, I thought back on the issue that was the most critical about the Basic Law – whether its interpretation should follow the principle of originalism, which dictates that judges deciding constitutional issues should confine themselves to enforcing norms that are stated or clearly implicit in the constitutional law, or we should adopt a purposive approach as Hong Kong is doing now, and seek an interpretation of certain provisions from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. I also thought back on the controversial circumstances of the few past cases in which such an interpretation was sought, including some for which the interpretation did not follow the provisions of the Basic Law, i.e. the provisions to be interpreted concern affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People's Government or the relationship between the Central Authorities and the Region, and the interpretation shall be sought through the Court of Final Appeal of the Region. Whether the Basic Law, which has given room for all these controversies to take place, is a good constitutional law, the answer cannot be more obvious.