• Wed
  • Nov 19, 2014
  • Updated: 12:41pm
Beijing White Paper 2014
NewsHong Kong
Rule of law

No need to fear Beijing’s white paper, says top British judge Lord Neuberger

Call for judges to be patriotic dismissed as consistent with present oath of allegiance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 8:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 11:56am
 

The UK Supreme Court's president, who also sits on Hong Kong's top court, has dismissed worries over demands in Beijing's white paper for local judges to be patriotic, saying the requirement is "not inconsistent" with judicial independence.

"I wonder if there is anything to worry about in the white paper," Lord Neuberger said in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.

Neuberger, a non-permanent judge on the city's Court of Final Appeal since 2009, said judges were expected to be patriotic to the extent that they took an oath of allegiance. "I took an oath to bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC," he added.

"Judicial independence is not inconsistent with judicial patriotism. The way in which judges demonstrate their patriotism is by an irrevocable and undiluted commitment to the rule of law."

Neuberger's position stood in contrast to the cautious attitude displayed by Andrew Li Kwok-nang, chief justice for 13 years before he stepped down in 2011.

The way in which judges demonstrate their patriotism is by an irrevocable and undiluted commitment to the rule of law

Li said in an article this month that the patriotism referred to in the white paper had been widely perceived as meaning "supportive of and cooperating with" the central and local governments, and protecting their interests. He said judges should not be pro or anti anyone "under the principle of judicial independence".

The present chief justice, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, has said he shared Li's views. Until yesterday, other serving judges had remained silent on the issue.

Neuberger, 66, said he saw "no present problem" with the city's rule of law. He later added that he "might resign" from the Court of Final Appeal if he felt the rule of law was undermined.

The white paper, released in June, drew some 1,800 lawyers onto the streets in protest amid fears that the rule of law was being jeopardised.

The paper also called judges "administrators" of Hong Kong, prompting worries about the separation of executive and judicial powers. On this, Neuberger said words "are slippery things".

"The word 'government' can be properly used to mean the executive arm of the government alone or all three branches of the government including the judiciary [and legislature]. The word 'administration' is similar."

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This article is now closed to comments

kenny4600
finally someone with sense ...
calyth
Have you tried reading a statute and see how hard is it to write words to have precise meaning?
The laws are thick precisely for a reason, because there are lots of ambiguity and requires more work to weed them out.
jayb
the "patriotic" requirement is embodied and required in most advanced democracies for public offices. i have yet to hear any judges in US run on an "unpatriotic" platform (judges in state and local levels are elected in US). even green party ran on "Peace is Patriotic" platform. Obama called on the "American Exceptionalism" in his speech on ISIS. Hillary, if she becomes the nominee, will definitely be running a strong "patriot" platform (as in hawkish). Beijing is not doing anything different. the difference is, hongkong people love the china $ but hate the china presence. they want more whites but the whites don't give 'em no $.
martinturner
The legalistic Lord Neuberger misses the key point, put well by Andrew Li, an actual Hongkonger: 'patriotism [is] widely perceived as meaning "supportive of and cooperating with" the central and local governments, and protecting their interests'.
Beijing sent a clear message, which was well understood here, and attempts to downplay its significance fail before they start.
ngsw
He will be criticized as a 50 cents by some commenters here. He must has received 50 cents from Beijing in saying something like this.
jimmybabe
What he is really saying is he's not worried because he is not a citizen of HK, he doesn't live there and he works here very occasionally and his family is not here and his future generations are not here, and therefore what's in the White Paper doesn't worry him. He's just being honest
warren_siu
He has no vested interests in HK, basically taking the nice nice stance until realizing its too late. Throwing caution to the wind.
williechow
17 years after handover, Hong Kong still has a British judge sitting in its top court !
Along with the silly wig, I am sure.
I can somewhat understand why British judges and barristers wear the wigs, it is their heritage.
What is the reason for Chinese judges and barristers wearing the silly thing? Longing for the good old colonial days, when Hong Kong judges swear allegiance to the Queen? Even then they were patriotic, only to their colonial master.
Dai Muff
I wouldn't be worried either if I were a British judge.
josefina
Hong Kong's judges come from many different countries.

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