Lawmakers voice doubts over dual role for judges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 May, 2010, 12:00am

The recommendation of Mr Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li as the next chief justice went without objection yesterday, but lawmakers expressed grave reservations over having appeal court judges also serving as non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal.

At a subcommittee meeting to scrutinise appointments to the top court, lawmakers raised no questions over Ma, currently the chief judge of the High Court, taking over from Andrew Li Kwok-nang when the latter retires at the end of August. They also did not object to the three candidates recommended as non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal.

However, Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee expressed grave reservations over having judges sitting in the Court of Final Appeal when they are ordinarily a core part of the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal judges Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching, Mr Justice Frank Stock and Mr Justice Michael Hartmann have been recommended as non-permanent members of the Court of Final Appeal, joining three other retired judges.

Eu said that while this might not be the first time serving appeal judges had been added to the list of non-permanent judges, this was 'not an ideal situation in the eyes of the public. It gives the impression that whether you go to the appeal court or the final appeal court, it's still the same pool of judges'.

Secretary for the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission Emma Lau Yin-wah said it was anticipated that there would be no more than 10 occasions during the year that any three of the new candidates would be called to sit in the top court.

Legal sector lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee also reflected the concern of certain sections of the legal community, in particular that of criminal barristers, who felt they might lose an opportunity to tackle a case from an entirely different perspective if they were faced with a judge who ordinarily sits in the Court of Appeal.

Eu added: 'This is very confusing for the public, and damages public confidence. I cannot accept this as a conventional arrangement.'

The subcommittee will report to the House Committee, following which the administration will prepare a resolution for all lawmakers to formally endorse the new appointments.