Determining the legality of accidental misuse of the district flag: Emphasis on intent, says Permanent Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs


27th September 2023 – (Hong Kong) In a recent committee meeting discussing the proposed “District Flag and Emblem (Amendment) Bill 2023,” Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a member of the Legislative Council raised concerns about the handling of unintentional misuse, such as accidentally inserting the district flag upside down. The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Eugenia Chung Nga Chi, emphasised that intent is a crucial consideration when determining whether a crime has been committed. As Hong Kong approaches the National Day celebrations, Chung assured citizens that as long as any actions are not deliberately intended to insult or defile the flag, there is no need for concern.

During the first meeting of the bill’s committee on 27th September, Foo Siu-wai, the Permanent Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, outlined the clear legislative principles of the proposed amendments. The bill includes 18 revised provisions, with three key focuses: strengthening the protection of the district flag and emblem, clarifying their usage and disposal, and enhancing education and promotion surrounding them. The committee has completed a detailed clause-by-clause examination of the bill.

According to Foo Siu-wai, the spirit of the proposed legislation is to further regulate the use of district flags and emblems, encouraging citizens to actively protect them. The bill also serves as a clear indication that any open and intentional acts of disrespect towards the district flag and emblem will not be tolerated.

Priscilla Leung mentioned an incident in 2016 when former Legislative Council member Cheng Chung-tai inserted the national and district flags upside down during a Legislative Council meeting. As the chairperson of the investigation committee at the time, Leung stated that she submitted a report condemning Cheng’s behaviour, which was unanimously supported by the committee members. The report concluded that Cheng’s actions constituted misconduct and a violation of his oath. According to the established procedure, a motion condemning Cheng’s actions would have been submitted to the Legislative Council as a private member’s bill. However, due to the challenging political environment at that time, it was difficult to garner the necessary two-thirds majority support to strip Cheng of his legislative qualifications.

Eugenia Chung emphasised that the incident ultimately went through the judicial process, and the proposed legislation aims to clarify acts that would be considered criminal. As long as citizens do not deliberately and publicly engage in behaviour that insults or defiles the district flag, they have no reason to worry. The significance of intent was underscored.

Kenneth Leung Yuk-wai, another LegCo member, raised questions about the establishment of additional collection points for district flag disposal, particularly beyond community halls, in anticipation of future events. One of the key aspects of the bill is to strengthen education and promotion regarding district flags and emblems. The government hopes that the Education Bureau will incorporate guidelines on district flags and emblems into primary and secondary school curricula, while also considering their inclusion in tertiary institutions.

Eugenia Chung noted that since the enactment of the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, a flag and emblem recycling mechanism has been established, with designated collection points for all 18 districts listed on the government’s website. The recycling process has been successful, and the proposed legislation aims to formalize the proper disposal of district flags and emblems. As for undamaged flags and emblems, citizens are free to keep them.

Eugenia Chung further explained that primary and secondary school curricula already include education on district flags and emblems. However, tertiary institutions have autonomy in designing their own courses. The flag-raising ceremony guidelines used in primary and secondary schools are also applicable to tertiary institutions.

The proposed “District Flag and Emblem (Amendment) Bill 2023” aims to provide clear guidelines on the use, protection, and disposal of district flags and emblems in Hong Kong. With an emphasis on intent, the legislation seeks to ensure that citizens understand the importance of respecting these symbols. As the bill progresses, discussions continue regarding education, promotion, and the establishment of appropriate collection points for flag disposal.