Judge bows out after 21 years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am

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High Court judge John Saunders, who on Thursday awarded HK$1.2 billion to a woman in a divorce settlement, retired yesterday after 21 years on the bench.

Known for his 2009 landmark decision for fairer handling of torture claimants, the New Zealander made his last sitting a day before he turned 65, marking the end of a legal career spanning 44 years. Saunders' (pictured) farewell sitting - a traditional send-off in the judiciary - was attended by Chief Judge of the High Court Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung, and many prominent lawyers. Saunders was lauded for his outstanding contribution to Hong Kong's justice system.

A die-hard fan of New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team, he will move to his wife's home country of Australia, where he intends to grow grapes.

'There is nothing quite like the drama of a courtroom, and to have been part of that drama for 21 years has been the most enjoyable part of my life,' Saunders said in his farewell speech. 'The rule of law is alive and well and flourishing in Hong Kong.

'It has been very exciting to be part of the development of the law with the introduction of technology, although I have to say that facing 197 lever arch files recently was a daunting process,' he said, apparently referring to the vast volume of evidence he had to deal with in the HK$5.5 billion divorce battle between Florence Tsang Chiu-wing and Samathur Li Kin-kan, the son of billionaire property tycoon Samuel Lee Tak-yee. He awarded Tsang HK$1.2 billion on Thursday.

Saunders has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years. He began as a public prosecutor in 1987, becoming a senior prosecutor and then a magistrate in 1990. He sat as a coroner, a District Court judge and became a matrimonial judge at the High Court. He also held official posts such as chairman of the now-defunct Inside Dealing Tribunal and of the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal.

Cheung said: 'Saunders ... is one of those judges, very few in number, who possess the ability to handle ... a variety of work spanning virtually every area of the law. That, coupled with his plain commonsense and an instinct for fairness, makes [him] a good and popular judge.'