Chief justice faces more than legal challenges

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2011, 12:00am


It is a great testimony to our senior judges in administering justice and preserving judicial independence in Hong Kong that one often forgets that in many ways our own judicial system is still in its infancy. In spite of the continued practice of the common law, there are a substantial number of scenarios regarding both the law and the administration of the judiciary which are unique to Hong Kong and the 'one country, two systems' concept. The tenure of the first chief justice, Andrew Li Kwok-nang, was therefore defined by some groundbreaking judgments which set Hong Kong's constitutional foundation as a jurisdiction which embraces individual rights and freedoms.

His successor, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, still has many years ahead of him to define how his tenure will be remembered, but his predecessor, Li, has already indicated that one of Ma's most important duties will be to initiate 'orderly succession planning' in judicial personnel. Earlier this week, Ma, as the chairman of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission, may have made his first major move in that succession plan by nominating Andrew Cheung Kui-nung as his replacement as Chief Judge of the High Court. But this is only one piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle that Ma must piece together, for Cheung's expected promotion merely begins another search for a new judge to replace him in charge of the constitutional and administrative cases at the Court of First Instance.

Such decisions may not attract the same publicity as landmark judgments, but they, too, have far-reaching significance regarding the development of the rule of law in Hong Kong. Our current judges are respected throughout the common law world, but the true test will be our courts' ability to maintain such standards and groom talent towards the legal profession or the judiciary without the supply of experienced professional judges that came with our former colonial ties. The Hong Kong judiciary has to sustain itself and it is imperative that the public recognise that Ma's administrative challenge remains as formidable as the legal ones which faced Li 14 years ago and gives him the necessary support.