The Court of Final Appeal has quashed a government decision not to incorporate six enclaves into their surrounding country parks, ordering the Country and Marine Parks Authority to look again at the matter.
Environmentalist Chan Ka-lam, the founder of Save Our Country Parks Alliance, brought her case to the city's top court, after the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal both earlier ruled against her.
A five-judge panel comprising of Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma, Justices Roberto Ribeiro, Joseph Fok, Andrew Cheung, and Lord Sumption unanimously allowed the appeal.
The court ordered the authority to put before the Country and Marine Parks Board an assessment of whether it would be suitable to incorporate the enclaves at Hoi Ha, Pak Lap, To Kwa Peng, So Lo Pun, Tin Fu Tsai and Pak Tam Au into country parks, before formulating recommendations to the Chief Executive.
The authority had argued that the Country Parks Ordinance does not specify that it must consult the board before making decisions such as determining whether individual areas should be designated as country parks.
The ordinance states that the board shall consider and advise the authority on "the policy and programmes prepared by the authority in respect of country parks and special areas, including proposed country parks and special areas".
The authority had also argued for a narrow interpretation of the terms "policy and programmes", saying assessments over the six enclaves could not be a policy or programme covered by the ordinance, or the board would be dealing with every little detail of the authority's work.
In its judgement, the court ruled that the assessments of the enclaves were part of a programme which falls within the meaning of the ordinance and therefore required the board to be consulted on them.
It said the term "programme" should not be limited to meaning only a plan or outline.
"There is no support from the purpose and context of s5(1)(b) to justify such a narrow interpretation. On the contrary, the purpose and context of that provision suggests, as we have seen, the importance of the role played by the board under the ordinance. It makes no sense to confine the board's consideration and advice only to a plan or outline and not to the substance of the activities, events, or actions thereunder."
"Quite simply, if a policy or programme prepared by the authority in respect of the country parks is involved, the board must be consulted," the court held.