The chairman of the Basic Law Institute, Alan Hoo SC, has clarified that he did not suggest or agree with the idea that all judges of the Court of Final Appeal should be Chinese nationals.
His remarks came days after Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and the Bar Association rejected the idea.
The suggestion to exclude overseas judges in the city's top court was floated by Cheng Jie, an associate professor of law at Tsinghua University, at a November 4 Basic Law seminar in Hong Kong, where Hoo was a guest speaker. Neither Yuen nor the association named Hoo or Cheng in their statements.
Hoo said yesterday of Cheng's idea that all Court of Final Appeal judges should at least be Hong Kong permanent residents: "I just thought what she said was a valid question."
Ten of 15 non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal are from other common-law jurisdictions, and Cheng was widely seen as calling for a shake-up of the current arrangement.
Hoo clarified that he disagreed with Cheng's view that the posts should be restricted to Chinese nationals, as this would require amending the Basic Law. He also opposed Cheng's idea of turning the city's highest court into a national court.
In the seminar, Cheng said of the Court of Final Appeal: "It should not only be a court for the [city] but also a national court."
To do that, she added: "I boldly think that Court of Final Appeal judges should be Chinese nationals. A bolder thought is that all the judges should at least have Hong Kong permanent residency. Only this way can Hongkongers ruling Hong Kong be demonstrated."
Later in the seminar, Hoo said: "Regarding the issue about [Court of Final Appeal] judges [envisaged by Cheng], I agree with what [Dr] Cheng said in this respect […] Why are [principal officials] in the executive branch required to be Chinese nationals, not allowed to have right of abode in any foreign country and that they have to cast away their [foreign] passports while [judges of J8, the most senior rank] are not subject to [this rule]? I think this is a valid question."
Hoo said yesterday his remarks had been distorted by the media, which had put him under pressure as both the secretary for justice and the Bar Association had rebuked him.
Hoo said his lawyer had written to Commercial Radio on Saturday, saying their host Lee Wai-ling's comments on the issue were defamatory and demanding an immediate correction and retraction of the allegations.
Meanwhile, a Chinese University poll of 819 people found only 12.6 per cent considered themselves "Chinese", the lowest score in 15 years. Some 23.4 per cent considered themselves Hongkongers, a new high in the survey by its Centre for Communication and Public Opinion.