Tragic judge's successor is first female in job
When Song Min Li was sworn in as the new judge of Macau's Court of Final Appeal this week - after tragedy struck her predecessor last year - she became the first female judge in the top court of the Macau Special Administrative Region.
In November, Justice Chu Kin died, aged 42, in a Guangzhou hospital, after he sustained brain injuries in an August traffic accident in Guangdong. Chu was on holiday with his family in Taishan when the accident happened. He had been in hospital in a vegetative state and his compulsory retirement was announced before his death.
His forced retirement and subsequent death sparked further concern as to how his loss would impact on the quality of the judiciary in the former Portuguese enclave.
Chu was the first Chinese person to be appointed a judge by Macau's Portuguese government in the 1990s, and he joined the Court of Final Appeal in December 1999 when Macau was handed over to China.
Before the handover, Macau had the dubious honour of having one of the world's youngest and least experienced teams of judges. Many of the 24 judges appointed by then chief executive-designate Edmund Ho Hau-wah were only in their early 30s. Most of them joined the bench just a few years before the handover.
After Chu's forced retirement, Macau legislator Au Kam-san, of the pro-democracy group the New Macau Association, expressed fears that the quality of the judiciary would be adversely affected by this turn of events.
'Basically, Macau lacks experienced judges. It is partly because the Portuguese colonial government was not keen on localising the judiciary before the handover,' Au said.
Jorge Godinho, an associate professor at the law faculty of the University of Macau, explained that law degrees only became available in the late 1980s, and master's law degrees in the mid-1990s. The awarding of law PhDs began only recently.
'The training of judges also only started in the mid-1990s. Therefore, no locally trained judges are of an advanced age. There is no specific way of dealing with this issue aside from letting time pass and letting these judges gain more experience,' Godinho said.
Song, then, has much resting on her shoulders. She was appointed by Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on, based on recommendations by an independent committee for the nomination of judges.
Born in 1966, Song obtained a master's degree in law from Beijing University. She was part of the first group of local magistrates to be nominated in Macau. She started work as a delegate of the Public Prosecutions Office in 1996 and has served as deputy attorney general since March 2000. The jury remains out as to how she will do.
'The death of Chu Kin was a terrible event: he was a very good magistrate. I cannot comment on his replacement. All we can do is wait, and read the decisions in which she will write the court's opinion,' Godinho said.