New judge older than retiree he's replacing
Austin Chiu and Adrian Wan
The government yesterday appointed a judge older than the retiring Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary to fill his shoes as a permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal - an arrangement that surprised some senior lawyers.
Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching, vice-president of the Court of Appeal, will become a permanent judge of the top court on October 25 when Bokhary turns 65, the retirement age for judges, even though Tang is nine months older. Bokhary, who is well known for his frequent dissenting opinions, will then become a non-permanent judge.
The appointments surprised some senior counsels since the two judges are effectively swapping positions; Tang is currently a non-permanent judge of the top court.
A judiciary spokeswoman said that, by October, Bokhary would have served for over 15 years as a permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, and there were no exceptional operational grounds for continuing his tenure. On the other hand, Tang was considered 'eminently suitable' for elevation to the Court of Final Appeal, she said.
Bokhary said he would have been happy to stay, but his departure was 'no big thing'.
'People speculate as to why I wasn't extended. Then remember this: the loss of one judge, even if he's the most liberal judge in the court - even if he's the only liberal judge in the court - is not fatal,' he said outside the court.
'The important thing now is for the other judges to demonstrate, as I'm sure they will demonstrate, and make the public believe - as I'm sure the public will believe them eventually - that the judiciary will stay true to their judicial oaths and the people of Hong Kong can be content,' he said.
Martin Lee Chu-ming, the city's most senior senior counsel, called the arrangement strange. He was concerned that, as a non-permanent judge, Bokhary would have far fewer chances to sit at the bench, rendering rulings by the Court of Final Appeal more conservative.
Lee added: 'Mr Justice Tang is a good and hard-working judge. There is nothing bad to say about him.'
While Tang was certainly not as liberal as Bokhary, Lee said Tang was not ultraconservative.
Barrister and lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee called the decision quite odd. It was 'inexplicable that when you retire a judge on account of his age, you replace him with another judge born in the same year'.