Rule of Law Tour

Rule of Law Tour

Rule of Law Tour

Hong Kong is renowned for being a society where the Rule of Law applies, but its fair legal system could not be upheld without the accumulation of experience and endeavour of members of its society. Today, let us trace Hong Kong’s legal history by walking through the architecture and streets in Central, and grasping the road to the Rule of Law.

Please download the Map here and printed with A3/A4 paper (2-sided)

Suggested Route: Former Legislative Council Building –> HSBC Main Building –> Former Court of Final Appeal –>Central Police Station Compound

Duration: 90 minutes (Approximate)


During the period 1912-1978, it was the Old Supreme Court Building; and during the Japanese occupation between 1941-1945, it was used as the Japanese military headquarters; and was later converted into the Legislative Council Building (1985-2011). The Court of Final Appeal has moved to this location since September 2015. The front door is surmounted by a pediment with the inscription “Erected AD MDCCCCX” (Erected AD 1910). On top of the pediment of the Building is a Statue of Justice represented by Themis. She is blindfolded, which represents impartiality. She has a pair of scales in her right hand, which represents fairness and a sword, which is a symbol of power, in her left hand.

This was once the Governor’s house. In 1917, it was the former French Mission Building, with a chapel topped by a cupola, and a shrine for statues. The building was also the Victoria District Court (1965) and the Supreme Court (1989). In 1989, the Building was listed a Declared Monument. After the 1997 handover, the Building was converted to be the Court of Final Appeal until September 2015.

The HSBC was established in 1865 and has conducted its business in this area since 1885. 4 different buildings have occupied this location since then. The 2 lions guarding the front door are marked by bullet holes, which are remnants of the Japanese Occupation in WWII. On the side facing Queen’s Road, a board with the list of directors hangs with the British Hong Kong emblem Colonial Seal Badge.

The Central Police Station was built in response to the influx of refugees from Mainland China in the 1850s due to the uprising of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. The earliest block was constructed in 1864 with 3 storeys. A storey was later added in 1905. The Victorian style building embraces both oriental and western architectural design. In 1995, it was listed as a Declared Monument. The main building, which faces Hollywood Road, was constructed in 1919. The front door is marked with “Hong Kong Police”; the “G” and “R” ornaments represent King George V (in power between 1910 and 1936).

The Magistracy was constructed in 1913; it was listed as a Declared Monument in 1995. The upper and lower part of the Building was furnished with granite blocks and red bricks respectively. A special small entrance was provided for judges. A sign with 1914, the year of completion, was hung on the front door with the British Royal sign. When the accused person was brought to court, the police would  escort them through the basement from the Police Station or the Prison to the Magistracy. The death penalty was executed publicly on the nearby Arbuthnot Road.

The Victoria Prison, also named the Central Prison, was the first jail in Hong Kong constructed in 1841. During the Japanese Occupation, it served to confine British soldiers and political prisoners. In the 1980s, it was converted to receive Vietnamese boat immigrants and illegal immigrants. It was listed as a Declared Monument in 1995 and stopped functioning as a prison in 2005. Ho Chi Minh from Vietnam was imprisoned there in 1931.

The Hong Kong Supreme Court was established in 1844 and John Walter Hulme was the first Chief Justice. He experienced the incident of the dismissal of the Chief Justice (1847) initiated by Davis, the second governor of Hong Kong. In colonial times, the Court of Final Appeal was located in the English Privy Council. The first generation of the Supreme Court was located at Wellington Street and the junction of Wyndham Street. The second generation of the Court was located at 7 Queen’s Road, whereas the third was at the former Legislative Council building in Central. In 1978, the Court was moved to the Former French Mission Building and then relocated to Admiralty in 1984 till now. After the 1997 handover, the Supreme Court was replaced by the Court of Final Appeal. The name of the Supreme Court Building was changed to the High Court.

In 1857, many Europeans consumed bread baked by the E Sing Bakery and had become poisoned. Cheong Ah Lum, the owner of the bakery, and his employees were arrested. Due to insufficient evidence that could prove Cheong’s had indeed committed this act, the Supreme Court found Cheong not guilty. However, the ruling caused social discontent. The government arrested Cheong and others again and deported them, an act that was contrary to the rule of law. It shows that the establishment of the separation of powers takes time.

The first death penalty was executed in 1844. Hanging was a public event until 1895. The United Kingdom had abolished the death penalty in 1965 and this was followed by Hong Kong in November, 1966. In December 1966, the United Nation General Assembly passed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and stipulated the right to life through Article 6 of the ICCPR. In 1976, the British government ratified the ICCPR and applied it in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has implemented the ICCPR into the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance which commenced in 1991. In 1993, Hong Kong officially abolished the law regarding the death penalty.

Ho Chi Minh: Having established the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh had organized the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hong Kong. In 1931, Ho was arrested, kept in the Victoria Prison and was waiting to be deported. However, due to the improper procedure carried out by police, he was released after appeal.

The Kwan Tai Lo diagram refers to the story which Chan Kwan, an indigenous inhabitant at the time, showed British soldiers who first landed the Hong Kong Island, their way to Ngo Keng Kiu from Shek Pai Wan. The road is also named Kwan Tai Lo. There is a claim that the Kwan Tai Lo Diagram have mistakenly placed the Victoria Peak at the Hong Kong Island as background. The coast where the Chinese and the British shook hands was located in Kowloon which had not yet become the British colony.

Numerous large scale social movements have been taken place outside the former Legislative Council building. These include the opposition to the Article 23 legislation in 2003 and the opposition to the construction of the high speed rail in 2010. In particular, the demonstration that aimed to support the Tiananmen Square democratic movement in Beijing was participated in by a million of people in 1989. The starting point of this large scale parade was also located outside the former Legislative Council building.

The Court of Final Appeal has been the focal point of 3 silent protests by legal professionals worn in black. The first one took place in 1999. Approximately 600 participants in the legal sector opposed the possible detriments to the judicial independence brought by the first interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) regarding the right of abode of Mainland children who were born to permanent residents of Hong Kong. The second parade happened in 2005 when about 900 participants opposed the interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPCSC regarding the tenure of the Chief Executive. The third time was in 2014. Around 1600 legal professionals protested against the White Paper issued by the State Council of China regarding the Hong Kong judges as “administrators” and to be patriotic. They expressed their concerns that the request would damage judicial independence and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

In 2012, some Hong Kong citizens occupied the ground floor of the HSBC head office and set up tents in response to the USA’s movement of occupying Wall Street to oppose capitalism. The movement lasted for about one year and it did not end until police and bailiff cleared the protestors.

The former Central Government Offices, also called the Government Offices Compound in the Central District, has been a major venue for demonstrations. The East, Main and West Wings were completed in 1954, 1956 and 1959 respectively. After the handover of sovereignty in 1997, iron fences were built outside the Central Government Offices. In 26th June 1999, police deployed pepper spray to disperse protestors who fought for the right of abode of Hong Kong citizen’s children born in Mainland China. After the incident, the Government built additional iron fences and the gate of the Offices is closed most of the time.


  • The Architectural Services Department. Website: “Central Police Station Compound /1914″. (Accessed on 22 August 2014)
  • The Legislative Council Secretariat. Information Note: The Legislative Council Building. 2003.
  • Hong Kong : Government Information Services. Commemorative booklet for the opening of the Legislative Council Building.
  • Ting Sun Pao Joseph. Historical Wandering in Hong Kong (New Edition). Hong Kong: The Commercial Press. 2009.
  • The Central and Western District Council. Heritage of the Central and Western District, Hong Kong. 2011.
  • Ye Ling-feng’s book on Hong Kong history. (《香海浮沉錄》及《香海滄桑錄》) Hong Kong: Chung Hwa Book. July 2011.
  • Hong Kong Memory Website
  • Ting, S. P. (2009). Historical Wandering in Hong Kong. (Extended ed.) The Commercial Press (HK) Limited.
  • Lou, W. L. (2012). Hong Kong Literature Walk (Latest ed.). The Commercial Press (HK) Limited.
  • The Central and Western District Council, Hong Kong. (2011). Heritage of the Central and Western District.
  • Ye, L. F. (2011). Estella drifting record (香海浮沉錄). Hong Kong Chung Hwa Book Company.
  • Ye, L. F. (2011). Island vicissitudes record(香海滄桑錄). Hong Kong Chung Hwa Book Company.
  • Hong Kong Memory Website: History of the CPS Compound. (n.d.). from http://www.hkmemory.org/central-police/text/index.php
  • So, M. H. (2003). http://www.somanhing.com/gotowalk/gotowalkindex.htm
  • Hong Kong Architectural Services Department. Website: “Central Police Station Compound /1914″. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2014, from https://www.archsd.gov.hk/archsd/html/teachingkits/TK3/central/accessibleversion/tc/acc_cpsc/1914.html
  • The Legislative Council Secretariat Research and Library Services Division. (2003). Information Note: The Legislative Council Building.
  • Hong Kong Government Information Services. (1985). Commemorative Booklet for the Opening of the Legislative Council Building.
  • Li, K. L. (2014, August 15). “Clarifications should be made regarding the White Paper” (白皮書惹憂慮應澄清). Ming Pao. Retrieved from http://www.role.hku.hk
  • Hong Kong’s Road to the Abolishment of Death Penalty [Motion picture]. (2013). Amnesty International Hong Kong. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsborziVSk0
  • Interview with Father Franco Mello regarding the right of abode movement.
  • (爭取居港權運動十一週年系列——專訪甘仔﹕爭取居港權,由水上新娘說起) (2010, January 28). Hong Kong InMedia.
  • (2012). [Radio series episode]. In Angels on Earth. RTHK. Retrieved from http://programme.rthk.hk/rthk/tv/programme.php?name=tv/angelsonearth&d=2012-09-12&m=episode

Illustration and Design: Chan Maydoy (www.chanmaydoy.com)