'Growing role for Judiciary on rights'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 September, 1999, 12:00am

The vital role of the Judiciary in safeguarding human rights and preventing abuses of power by the Government will continue to grow in importance, the Chief Justice said yesterday.

Andrew Li Kwok-nang told a conference in South Korea that judges must act courageously and not be swayed by criticism.

Appearing to draw on his experience of the recent right of abode crisis, the top judge spoke of the difficulty encountered by courts when dealing with controversial cases involving the constitution.

'The courts are faced with balancing, and it is often a difficult balance, the interests of society as a whole,' Mr Justice Li said.

'The situations are usually grey and different people of goodwill can come to different conclusions.

'In this difficult and controversial area, the challenge for the courts is to uphold the constitution and the law and maintain the enduring values of a civil society.

'These values are constitutionally guaranteed in many jurisdictions and are recognised in various international covenants. Judges should act fearlessly, irrespective of popular acclaim or criticism.' Public debate on such rulings should be vigorously exercised, but judges should not defend their judgments in the political arena.

'It is not the function of the Judiciary to meddle in matters which are properly within the responsibility of the Executive and the Legislature,' the Chief Justice said.

'But the Judiciary has a vital constitutional role to ensure that the Executive and Legislature act within the constitution and the law, that there is no abuse of power and that fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens are safeguarded. The constitutional role of the courts will continue to grow in importance.' He added that with increasing globalisation, 'it is important for there to be cross-fertilisation between jurisdictions so we can learn from each other's thinking and experience'.

In January, Mr Justice Li delivered the Court of Final Appeal's landmark right of abode ruling sparking a constitutional crisis.

He is likely to be on the bench again when the issue returns to the top court next month.


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