Lawyers warn of possible judicial interference

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 3:20am

The Bar Association has warned of possible interference with judicial independence as a result of the recent heated debate over seeking interpretations of the Basic Law from Beijing.

The association expressed special concern about those who had "in a high-profiled manner" raised arguments on the legal merits of the requests for interpretation and expressed "in strong terms" views on the social and political consequences.

The professional body made the comments in its first public statement on the issue since Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung confirmed last week that he would ask the Court of Final Appeal to seek an interpretation on the right of abode issue. While freedom of expression was a cherished value, it said the exercise of such freedom had to be informed.

It also warned against high-profile commentary and conjecture while the issue was still under the court's consideration.

The association said the Secretary for Justice had a professional and constitutional responsibility to advance all arguments for the government which he believed was reasonable.

It also said it strongly believed in the impartiality and independence of Hong Kong courts.

University of Hong Kong law professor Michael Davis said he interpreted the association's statement as a bid to safeguard judicial independence from political pressure rather than a call for stifling of public debate.

Yuen's decision has been widely debated by politicians, lawyers and legal scholars, among them law professors Eric Cheung Tat-ming and Davis who are against seeking an interpretation.

But others such as Executive Council members Andrew Liao Cheung-sing and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee support the decision.

"Since the Bar statement refers to free speech I will assume they fully appreciate the need of the public to be fully informed," Davis said.

"Scholars and journalists would be "remiss in their duties" if they did otherwise while scholars and even lawyers were obliged to join the Bar in defending the independence of the judiciary.