• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:42am
NewsHong Kong

Top justice officials back independence of Hong Kong courts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 8:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 4:19am

The two most senior figures in Hong Kong's judicial system yesterday defended the independence of the courts in the face of calls by Beijing officials for more "co-operation" between the three branches of government and public abuse of judges.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said public confidence in the judiciary's integrity rested "on a truly independent judiciary, judges who look no further than the proper application of the law, both in letter and in spirit, and the importance of ensuring transparency in all that the courts do in order to demonstrate the integrity of the law". Meanwhile, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung lambasted people who he said had resorted to "abusive attacks" on judges for reaching decisions with which they did not agree.

He added that "true respect of the rule of law" meant people should exercise their rights within the boundaries permitted by the law. The pair were speaking at the opening ceremony for the 2014 legal year.

Asked about Beijing officials' view that there ought to be "co-operation" between the executive, legislature and judiciary, Ma said the Basic Law stipulated clearly and repeatedly that Hong Kong exercised separation of these powers.

Liaison office propaganda chief Hao Tiechuan last year poured cold water on the idea that Hong Kong exercised separation of powers because the chief executive had more power than the legislature and the judiciary. Rejecting "abusive attacks" on judges, Yuen said: "Some have even indicated that they would compile a list of judges whom they considered politically biased and would request their removal.

"However well-intended their subjective motives might be, such conduct should not be encouraged," he said.

"Deliberate attempts to act in breach of the law, even for causes which may sound noble, should not be encouraged."

Radical lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung last year called for a "civil monitor" on judges' performance after several magistrates' sentences on protesters were reduced on appeal.

The top court sparked controversy last month by ruling that new immigrants no longer had to wait seven years to receive welfare benefits. Without addressing any particular case, Ma described certain public law cases as difficult and a test to "the demarcation lines between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary". But he said the constitutional line was clear. "Courts and judges deal only with the legal issues arising in the disputes that come before them and we determine only these legal issues."

Ma remained tight-lipped on political topics including public nominations for the chief executive and the Occupy Central civil disobedience plan. He said they were "hypothetical" and it was beyond his constitutional role to comment.

Bar Association chairman Paul Shieh Wing-tai said if the government wanted to reject a Basic Law-compliant reform proposal on political grounds, it should "call a spade a spade".

He added: "What we do not want to see is for political objections to be presented as legal objections."



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This article is now closed to comments

Our independent judiciary is one of the reasons why our Hong Kong has the good standing and respect among Asia nations and in the world. We shall be grateful for that.
It doesn't matter whether they still wear the outfit from colonial times because it is in fact the colonial times that have brought us this freedom of having an independent judiciary that can give us a peace if mind, at least in respect to the rule of law.
Independence of the judiciary should not and must not be compromised. Who will have faith in a judicial system that takes into account other factors such as politics. This will only mean people are unequal before the law. People must not blame the courts for decisions they don't like as long as the principles of fairness have been observed.
Let us not be put off by the wardrobe.
Judicial independence is vital to the survival of Hong Kong.
HK-Lover's comments are right on. Why is wearing horse hair wigs even an issue? It's the judicial system that counts. Compare our system, as established by the British over 150 years, with the Communist Party controlled legal system in the Mainland and ask yourself..."Which system do I prefer"? The answer is obvious.
hard times !
Our Top judge backed the independence of our law courts from interference coming from local leftists (so-called blind loyalists). Bravo ! The independence of our judiciary is one of the cornerstones of the success of our beloved Hong Kong and thus can never be sacrificed.No matter what the local leftists accused our law courts' verdicts, the independence of our judiciary should be well guareded and our judges should stand firm, no compromise nor give in tho any pressure coming from local leftists or across the border ! It concerns the life or death of this piece of land where we live !
hard times !
Judge Ma has rightly pointed out that both the 'civil nomination' and 'Occupy Central' campaign are hypotheitical issues as the former can hardly be carried out due to technical and financial problems in town while the latter will never be staged once we are offered a geniune universal suffrage---the right to nominate candidates, to be voted and to vote in an election (e.g.the universal suffrage in 2017). Right ?
Who's the naughty boy looking at his watch then?
Maybe Hong Kong courts should first free themselves from their colonial masters.
Get rid of the wigs! It is a foreign tradition and we are now in 2014.
Unfortunately, the Opening of the Legal Year is a bit like a pantomime when the Judges dress up like Dames in their ridiculous wigs, buckled shoes and silk stockings. It appears the main reason for retaining court dress is to emphasize the real difference between the legal system in HK with that operating in the mainland. This is important as HK still has the rule of law no matter the wish of the Liaison Office. However, it is surely time to modernise court dress but in a manner which maintains HK's connection to the common law world. The independence and standing of our Judiciary isn't dependent on the wearing of those preposterous horsehair wigs!
You may be right but in my opinion the HK courts are in pursuit of both.



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