Following is a question by the Hon Tam Yiu-chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):
Given that the former Legislative Council enacted the Block Crown Lease (Cheung Chau) Ordinance (Cap. 488) in 1995 to terminate the Block Crown Lease granted to Wong Wai Tsak Tong (WWTT) of Cheung Chau, and to deem all sub-lessees (Cheung Chau landlords) and sub-leases under the Block Crown Lease as Crown lessees and Crown leases respectively, I have recently received enquiries with regard to some large banners on the streets of Cheung Chau claiming that some lawyers will provide free service for the transfer of the titles to the original leases from WWTT to the affected Cheung Chau landlords. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether there will be any problem with Cheung Chau landlords' titles to the land, if they have not gone through the formalities for transfer of the aforesaid titles; if not, whether the authorities have found out if issues such as professional conduct or abuse of personal data, etc. are involved with regard to those lawyers claiming to provide free service for processing the formalities for transfer of titles for such landlords; if such issues are involved, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether the authorities have received any complaint involving the aforesaid claims of free service for processing the formalities for transfer of titles for Cheung Chau landlords; if they have, of the details, and whether they will refer any dispute arising from the relevant lawyers' services and fees to the Law Society of Hong Kong (Law Society) for follow-up; and
(c) whether it knows if the promotion of services of practising lawyers through a third party, their chargeable and free services, as well as the protection of their clients' personal data privacy, etc. are subject to the regulation and guidelines of the Law Society, the Consumer Council and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data; if they are, of the respective details; if not, the reasons for that?
Between the 1980s and the early 1990s, the Wong Wai Tsak Tong (WWTT) and the sub-lessees had disputes over the land title, the renewal of sub-leases, payment of government rent and redevelopment of land. Although legal action was taken in 1990 between some of the sub-lessees and WWTT with a settlement reached subsequently, such action did not help resolve the above-mentioned disputes. Afterwards, in 1994, a majority of these sub-leases were not renewed upon expiry as a result of the disputes, creating uncertainty to title. Property transactions in Cheung Chau were thus effectively frozen.
In 1995, a Private Member's Bill was passed by the former Legislative Council which sought to terminate the Block Crown Lease granted to WWTT and to deem all sub-lessees and sub-leases under the Block Crown Lease as Crown lessees and Crown leases respectively. The Private Member's Bill was subsequently passed and became the Block Crown Lease (Cheung Chau) Ordinance (Cap. 488) (the Ordinance).
My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(a) As explained above, the Ordinance sought to terminate the Block Crown Lease granted to WWTT and to deem all sub-lessees and sub-leases under the Block Crown Lease as Crown lessees and Crown leases respectively. The only exception is the sub-leases which, by agreement between WWTT and the sub-lessees, had been granted or renewed for any period extending beyond November 9, 1994, and under which agreement WWTT and the sub-lessees had agreed on the amount of rent payable to WWTT after June 30, 1997. That said, these sub-leases are deemed to be Crown leases after the expiry of their term. Due to the fact that the above-mentioned arrangements came into effect upon the commencement of the Ordinance, the sub-lessees of the relevant leases are not required to make arrangements for a transfer of title.
As regards the enquiries received by the Honourable Tam about the provision of free services for the transfer of title of the Block Crown Lease by some lawyers to the Cheung Chau landlords as mentioned in his question, I would suggest the Honourable Tam to invite the enquirer to contact the Law Society of Hong Kong (the Law Society) direct, as the question on professional conduct of lawyers and the Law Society’s regulation of its members are the independent affairs of the Law Society.
(b) Neither the Lands Department, the Islands District Office, the Consumer Council nor the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) have received any complaints on the matter referred to in the question. If such complaints are received, the authorities will take appropriate follow-up actions, including referring the case to the Law Society.
(c) Policies pertaining to consumer protection and protection of personal data come under the respective purview of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. Their replies to part (c) of the question are as follows:
The Consumer Council does not have the power to regulate the services provided by the legal profession (such as its promotional practices, fees or measures protecting personal data privacy). As an advocate for consumer welfare, the Council often appeals to traders (through, for instance, publishing a Good Corporate Citizen's Guide) not to adopt practices that could be prejudicial to consumer interests (such as deceptive marketing and other tactics which may annoy consumers or harm their interests).
As regards protection of personal data, use (including transfer) of personal data is currently governed by Data Protection Principle 3 (DPP 3) of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO). DPP 3 provides that personal data shall not, without the prescribed consent of the data subject, be used for any purpose other than the purpose for which the data was to be used at the time of collection or a directly related purpose. If a data user breaches DPP 3, the PCPD may issue an enforcement notice directing the data user to take specified steps to remedy the contravention within a specified period. Contravention of an enforcement notice is an offence and would render the data user liable, on conviction, to a fine at level 5 ($50,000) and imprisonment for two years.
Use of personal data in direct marketing is also governed by section 34 of the PDPO which allows a data subject to request the data user to cease to so use his data. The PCPD has issued guidelines providing practical guidance on the collection and use of personal data in direct marketing.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:14