• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:14am
Beijing White Paper 2014
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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".

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This article is now closed to comments

Dao-Phooy
Global Times - the commentary is laughable! Nobody has any issue with Ambrose Lam's personal views. This is acknowledged by everybody in HK. However, Lam is not entitled to pronounce his personal views as the official views of the Law Society - he is not entitled to hijack the Law Society for his own agenda. You have got the concept completely wrong - whatever he says = the official view. Your reporters and editors should stop shining shoes and educate themselves on the concept of freedom of speech. I'm proud of the victory against those who wanted to put Ambrose Lam's fate against the integrity of the institution itself. Hong Kong solicitors have shown themselves willing to stand up and to be counted and I have no doubt they will continue to do so. If our judiciary and lawyers don't speak out then Hong Kong becomes just another small and insignificant Chinese city being sold out by the toadies in the Administration and by the tycoons. International business can take great comfort from this vote - that the rule of law and the ability to obtain independent legal advice are still a part of this city's fabric.
Global Times - the Mainland has laws but not the rule of law, an administrative judiciary but not an independent judiciary, lawyers but only a handful willing to be independent as they face the real prospect of being detained if they defend their clients' rights, but here in HK it is the duty of lawyers to do so. Absurd? Yes, Global Times your commentary is absurd!
sundayatscmp
Your argument is quite mistaken. You have confused the legislative process with the judicial process. "No politically neutral laws" may be correct in that the legislature makes law while its members are subjected to political influence, and perhaps rightly so. That's why we have controversial laws sometimes. However, once something is passed into laws by the legislature, we expect the judiciary to judge according to those laws independently without political considerations. Our judges rule on the evidence according to the laws, nothing else counts.
chuchu59
Expected but still reassuring nevertheless.
skypingly
The strength of the Hong Kong system is the rule of law. The law is enacted by the legislature. Once it is enacted the judiciary gives judgement in accordance with the law enacted without undue influence from anyone including the President or Chief Executive. The Chief Justice is placed in the position to ensure the principal of the rule of law is carried out. Their statements made in public in their capacity is therefore important and if we do not believe in what they say we might as well flush the rule of law down the toilet
caractacus
Party functionaries and their cronies in HK present their arbitrary pronouncements as if they are law. They are not, nor are political pronouncements in a White Paper. Chief Justice Ma very properly meets the misguided pronouncements in the White Paper with the Basic Law, which is the real law. End of story.
ejmciii
Good to see members of the HK establishment showing backbone for the basic rights of HK people even in the face of the tyrants who seek to take our rights under the guise of protecting stability. We need more like this man and fewer like the pretenders who say they are here to help us but serve only the tyrants across the border.
dbsscmp
Let us get this straight-the current rule of law in Hong Kong is only for 50 years from July 1, 1997 and is protected by the Basic Law only for this period. After 50 years the Basic Law will cease.
All these 'hot air' and arguments we are seeing and hearing now are just personal opinions.
The key questions are : Has the Basic Law been violated to-date and why are we all not thinking and talking about its imminent end sooner or later and its transition from 50 years of one country two systems to one country one system? Perhaps, we are being foolishly blind to the eventual demise of the Basic Law and have not shown any inclination to be one country one system.
The sooner the public knows more about the 'truth' (Big picture) the more informed they will become.
sienna.lai
But it is already not independent. Right? I mean, doesn't it already 'report' directly to the Chief Executive and/or EXCO? .. and the ICAC too.
It's really a joke .. requiring all in gov't to 'love the country'. Does this really mean 'love the Party'? Still at our hearts .. we want to kill ourselves .. so sad.
klyiu1@yahoo.ca
Not sure what you meant by "hollow and foolish". Would be great if you could enlighten us which part of Mr. Li's opinion you consider hollow, and which part foolish. I would think there is no need for Mr. Ma to state or repeat the obvious, because his predecessor has already laid the ground work.
klyiu1@yahoo.ca
Not sure what you meant by "hollow and foolish". Would be great if you could enlighten us which part of Mr. Li's opinion you consider hollow, and which part foolish. I would think there is no need for Mr. Ma to state or repeat the obvious, because his predecessor has already laid the ground work.

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