Former Hong Kong chief justice calls departure of three foreign judges ‘very regrettable’

Li and Cheung’s remarks were prompted by the departure of three foreign non-permanent judges from the Court of Final Appeal within a week.

The judiciary announced Tuesday that Canadian judge Beverley McLachlin would step down from the highest court at the end of her term in July, days after British judges Jonathan Sumption and Lawrence Collins announced their resignations.

Sumption also wrote an opinion piece Monday saying the city’s rule of law was “deeply compromised.”

In his own statement, former Chief Justice Li said: “The recent resignation of the two British judges is most regrettable. Just like the decision of the Canadian judge not to continue after the expiration of her mandate.

“It is important for us in Hong Kong to move forward with commitment, instead of dwelling on the past. »

Li said local courts were responsible for ensuring national security under the law and had a duty to judge cases, including those involving the government, fairly and impartially, in accordance with their duty to protect the rights and individual freedoms.

“We must be confident that the courts, under the leadership of Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, will continue to be able to discharge their functions effectively,” he said.

Cheung was quoted in a judiciary statement as saying that opinions expressed publicly could constitute interference in the administration of justice by the courts, adding that they should be expressed with “utmost circumspection.”

“As in other jurisdictions, a tension often exists between protecting fundamental rights and safeguarding national security, two tasks that Hong Kong’s justice system is firmly committed to doing,” he said.

The judiciary also quoted Cheung as saying it had “every confidence that the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal will continue to act with integrity and professionalism in handling any appeal.”

Hong Kong, China’s only common law jurisdiction, is allowed to recruit judges from elsewhere under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. This tradition is seen as an indicator of confidence in the city’s rule of law.

Former Chief Justice Andrew Li at his office in Central. Photo: Nora Tam

Outgoing British judge Collins, 83, told the Post last Thursday that he had resigned due to the political situation in Hong Kong, but stressed that he continued to have “the utmost confidence” in the court and in the total independence of its members.

The government on Tuesday issued a lengthy rebuttal to Sumption’s opinion piece, published a day earlier under the headline “Hong Kong’s rule of law is in grave danger.”

McLachlin, meanwhile, said she would retire once her term ends this summer, with the 80-year-old citing her age and her desire to spend more time with her family.

She also expressed her confidence in “the members of the Court, their independence and their determination to uphold the rule of law”.

Veteran Australian judge James Spigelman and former British judge Brenda Hale resigned earlier as non-permanent foreign members of the top court following the enactment of Beijing’s national security law in 2020.

In 2022, the United Kingdom removed the Chief Justice, Lord Robert Reed, and the Deputy President, Lord Patrick Hodge, from their posts in Hong Kong.

The supreme court consists of five judges to hear and decide appeals, consisting of the chief justice, three permanent judges, and one non-permanent judge from the city or other common law jurisdiction.