Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen rejects call for Chinese-only appeal judges

Rimsky Yuen says scholars' recommendation for appeal court would limit available talent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 3:46am

The city's justice minister dismissed suggestions that all Court of Final Appeal judges should be Chinese nationals, as this would "unduly restrict" the talent available for appointment.

Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung SC rejected the idea put forward by two Basic Law experts. Yuen said it was important and beneficial for the city to maintain a link with other common law jurisdictions.

"The presence of overseas non-permanent judges helps to enhance the international reputation of our judiciary. Any proposal to impose nationality or residence requirements would unduly restrict the pool of talents that can be appointed as judges," Yuen said in a statement.

Mainland scholar Cheng Jie, a former researcher for the Basic Law Committee, told a seminar on Sunday that the Court of Final Appeal, the city's highest court, should comprise only Chinese nationals.

Cheng said this would reflect the principle that Hongkongers should rule Hong Kong - a sentiment echoed by Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo.

Cheng also suggested that judges should be appointed by the chief executive based on the recommendation of an independent commission.

Ten of 15 non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal are from other common-law jurisdictions.

Their remarks came after former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie accused the city's judges of failing to understand the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government, and said they had made mistakes in their judgments.

Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary - who believed he was not kept on as a Court of Final Appeal judge after reaching retirement age because he was too liberal - said a "storm of unprecedented ferocity" was gathering over the city's rule of law.

Yuen said judges and other members of the judiciary should be chosen only for their judicial and professional qualities and may be recruited from other common law jurisdictions, according to Article 92 of the Basic Law. He also cited Article 82, which says the Court of Final Appeal may, as required, invite judges from other common law jurisdictions to sit on the court.

Article 90 stipulates only that the chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal and the chief judge of the High Court shall be Chinese citizens who are permanent residents of Hong Kong, with no right of abode in any foreign country.

Yuen said the judicial system had worked well since the handover. "Judges of the Court of Final Appeal, including the overseas non-permanent judges, are highly respected, and have no doubt made very positive contributions to … our jurisprudence."