I was offered old post, says Yang
Former Chief Justice Yang Ti Liang turned down an offer from the Chief Executive-designate to return to the top judiciary post before he accepted a seat in the post-handover Executive Council.
Mr Yang told the South China Morning Post that soon after Tung Chee-hwa defeated him for selection as Chief Executive in December, Mr Tung had asked him to be Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal.
This was months before Mr Tung named the Judicial Officers' Recommendation Commission which held its first meeting last week and will have the task of naming judges of the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
Mr Yang said: 'I've been asked to go back to be the CJ. I have said no.
'If I had not run for the chief-executiveship, I think it only sensible that I should have stayed on as chief justice, say until 1999 or 2001.
'That's because, again, good or bad, people know me. There weren't any great disasters during my period as CJ. So just let me carry on.' However, 'it was a different ball game' after he quit the Judiciary to join the race to be the SAR leader.
'The status and post of the CJ is so dignified that I don't think it's something you can leave to go for another job, and having failed, to go back to again.
'It's not that kind of job that I can take it or leave it when I like. You've got to make a commitment,' he explained.
Mr Yang said that during campaigning for the role of chief executive he had inevitably expressed his views about controversial and political matters, such as human rights laws and the provisional legislature.
'People still remember what I said . . . How can people say that you can suddenly become non-political and perfectly impartial? 'People will say, 'you have already made up your mind and now you're sitting on the bench'.
'I don't think it's right for me to go back,' he added.
Mr Yang said that after turning down the offer to return to the judiciary, he and Mr Tung had talked about what he could do.
'I said I've retired. Then he said, 'What about Exco?' . . . I felt very flattered.
'It's a new life. It's very interesting and very different from being a judge . . . I found I have a lot of things to learn, such as housing and transport. It's good for me to widen my horizons.
'I don't think I have taken up a very onerous job. This is retirement. This suits me well.' Mr Yang said he had no interest in playing a more active role in policy-formulation and denied suggestions that assigning three Exco colleagues to special taskforces was aimed at 'testing how a ministerial system works'.
He said the intention was to help Mr Tung draft his policy speech. 'They are not there to be super policy secretaries or to be ministers.' Since his early retirement last summer, Mr Justice Brian Power has been acting Chief Justice.
Mr Yang claimed it was simplistic to say there were only two leading candidates for his successor - referring to Appeal Court judge Benjamin Liu Chi-ming and Executive Council member Andrew Li Kwok-nang, QC.
'There are one or two people who are qualified. When they consider names, they will not just consider two names,' he said.
Mr Yang said Mr Tung had not consulted him on contenders but Mr Tung mentioned he wanted to bring new faces to the judicial recommendation body.
'We talked about the retention of professionals. It was not an in-depth discussion.
'There was no discussion on the CJ. We have to leave it to the commission.'