More Structure, More Deference: Proportionality in Hong Kong

Proportionality in Asia (edited by Po Jen Yap, forthcoming 2019)

32 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2018 Last revised: 1 Mar 2019

Date Written: February 18, 2019


This paper, part of a forthcoming edited volume on Proportionality in Asia, examines the proportionality test as applied in Hong Kong’s constitutional jurisprudence. In addition to tracing the evolution of proportionality doctrine from the British colonial era to the present day, the paper advances two broad claims. First, it argues that the Hong Kong judiciary, led by the Court of Final Appeal (CFA), has gradually inserted more structure to the proportionality test, but has also become more deferential to governmental authority and expertise in constitutional rights adjudication. The CFA’s landmark judgment in Hysan Development Co Ltd v Town Planning Board (2016) is most significant in this regard, as it enabled the use of a very deferential standard of review – “manifest” unreasonableness – in a wide range of fundamental rights cases. Second, Hysan’s introduction of a fourth step to the proportionality test has had little, if any effect on subsequent judgments. The fourth step calls for courts to balance the societal benefits of an impugned law against the harm it imposes on individual rights. Thus far, however, Hong Kong courts have refrained from taking this balancing exercise seriously, even when the burden on those whose rights are affected appears to be substantial or excessive.

Keywords: Proportionality, Hong Kong, Court of Final Appeal

Suggested Citation

Abeyratne, Rehan, More Structure, More Deference: Proportionality in Hong Kong (February 18, 2019). Proportionality in Asia (edited by Po Jen Yap, forthcoming 2019). Available at SSRN:

Rehan Abeyratne (Contact Author)

Chinese University of Hong Kong ( email )

6/F, Lee Shau Kee Building
Shatin, New Territories
Kowloon, Sha Tin
Hong Kong

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