Lawyers organising today's march in defence of judicial independence received fresh impetus yesterday as a retired judge and two leading law deans stood by critics of Beijing's white paper, which categorises judges as administrators who need to be patriotic.
Retired High Court judge William Waung Sik-ying said it was "most regrettable" that "the Hong Kong government has not immediately taken steps to correct the ... error of judicial patriotism in the white paper".
"I hope the silent march will cause the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government to issue the appropriate corrective statement," Waung wrote to legal-sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok, one of the 30 organisers of the march. Waung is overseas and will not join the march.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said only that the white paper - issued by the State Council on June 10 and asserting Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong - "carries no intention to impose requirements other than those in the Basic Law on judges".
Also weighing in were the outgoing law dean of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, and his Chinese University counterpart, Professor Christopher Gane. "I do think that the white paper represents a change in approach towards Hong Kong and that the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary is threatened," said Chan, who will join the march from the High Court in Queensway to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
"It is important for the legal profession to send a clear message that any attempt to undermine the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary is itself a violation of the Basic Law."
Gane said the language and the timing of the white paper were unfortunate.
Without commenting on the march, he said "a central message" of the paper reinforced the subordinate nature of Hong Kong's legal system, adding: "I doubt the wisdom or necessity of restating this at a time of heightened political sensitivity."
Critics, including the politically powerful Bar Association, have argued the paper wrongly categorised judges as "Hong Kong administrators" who needed to be patriotic.
Waung, who retired in 2008, added yesterday: "There is nothing in the judicial oath requiring a judge to be patriotic or to love China."
The march will be the third since the handover for lawyers to show solidarity with an embattled judiciary. The first two, in 1999 and 2005, followed Basic Law interpretations.
City University acting law dean Professor Lin Feng said he saw no intention by Beijing to interfere with judicial independence and he would not join the march.