No interference in justice, declare HK legal figures

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2012, 12:00am


A string of senior figures in Hong Kong's legal system have defended the impartiality and independence of the judiciary against public and political interference, after a year of controversial cases.

Speaking yesterday at a ceremony marking the new legal year, Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung urged the public not to put pressure on courts deciding cases of great social importance so as to uphold judicial independence.

At the same ceremony, the chairman of the Bar Association, Kumar Ramanathan, also urged people not to attack lawyers who represented unpopular clients, saying it was their duty to ensure people have access to justice.

The increasing number of judicial reviews showed that people were aware of their freedom and right to challenge a governmental policy, said Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal. He said that the courts would only consider the arguments of the case and would not be swayed by political issues.

Their comments came against the background of a number of controversial judicial reviews last year, including the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, and foreign domestic helpers' fight for right of abode.

'Judicial decisions must be independent and impartial and must not be dictated by public opinion or convenience,' Wong said.

'We could help strengthen judicial independence by carefully preserving an environment where judges may decide cases strictly in accordance with the evidence and the law, free from any extraneous considerations as well as improper influences or pressure, direct or indirect, even though the judgment may result in serious consequences for the community as a whole.'

On the issue of clients, Ramanathan said it was a traditional rule that a barrister must take a case even if he disapproved of the client's character, unless there was a conflict of interest.

He said: 'In the course of this year, some members of the Bar have been criticised for representing parties, or seeking relief from the courts in respect of causes or issues that were considered as unpopular by some sections of the community. These attacks, some of which were rather brutal and personal, were unjustified, unwarranted and in ignorance of the duty, obligation and traditions of a barrister.

'I hope the public will learn to understand and appreciate that when a barrister accepts a brief to argue an issue which, or represent a party who, is perceived to be unpopular or distasteful, the barrister is only carrying out his duty in accordance with his obligations.'

Ramanathan did not refer to a particular case. But one controversial case that led to criticism was the fight for the right of abode for foreign domestic helpers. The Civic Party's Gladys Li, who was acting on legal aid, was criticised for representing maids.