Beijing White Paper 2014

Hong Kong chief justice weighs in for the first time on Beijing white paper

Chief justice weighs into debate on Beijing's controversial white paper, telling conference that independence is protected by Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 August, 2014, 7:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 1:55pm

The city's top judge yesterday weighed into the debate about Beijing's white paper on the city's affairs, stressing that the local judiciary would act only on the basis of the law and would not be swayed by any other factor.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li was commenting for the first time on the June report, which disturbed many lawyers by classifying judges as "administrators" with a "basic political requirement" to love the country.

His remarks, in a speech on "the rule of law and an independent judiciary", came a day after his predecessor Andrew Li Kwok-nang expressed reservations about the document.

Addressing a conference organised by the University of Cambridge Hong Kong and China Affairs Society, Ma said the white paper had triggered discussion on rule of law. But, he added, judicial independence was protected by various articles of the Basic Law, such as the stipulation that judicial and professional qualities should be the only criteria in a judge's appointment.

Ma said the public could assess whether the city's courts remained independent based on four factors: the views of the legal profession on the topic, court transparency, rulings in controversial cases and those involving the government and, finally, whether judgments complied, objectively, with legal principles.

In a commentary for the South China Morning Post on Friday, Li wrote that a requirement for patriotism was perceived as being "supportive of and cooperating with" local and central governments. It was "unfortunate and unsuitable" for the white paper to include judges among those who "administrate" Hong Kong, he added. Ma said his views on judicial independence and the rule of law were "largely the same" as Li's.

Former University of Hong Kong law dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun said the public should listen to the views of Li and Ma. "The central government should also clarify" its views, Chan said.

Ma and Li's remarks came amid growing concern from lawyers over the white paper. On Thursday, the Law Society passed a vote of no confidence in president Ambrose Lam San-keung after he came out in favour of the white paper.

The society's rules do not require a president to resign after a no-confidence vote. Its ruling council next meets on Tuesday.

In an editorial yesterday, the state-run Global Times said the vote was "absurd" because Lam's freedom of speech should be "supported and protected".