UK’s new chief judge could become first ever woman on Hong Kong’s top court

Both Lady Hale’s predecessors serve on city’s Court of Final Appeal, setting a precedent that the history-making judge could follow

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 8:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 8:33am

Hong Kong’s top court could soon get its first female judge, after its UK counterpart appointed its first ever female president.

Lady Hale made history on Friday by becoming the third president of the UK’s Supreme Court since its inception in 2009, and the first woman in the position. She will swear in in October

It is not a matter of course that the UK’s top judge serves in Hong Kong, but both of Hale’s predecessors serve as non-permanent judges at the city’s Court of Final Appeal, meaning she could also be invited.

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A source said Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li once acknowledged, in comments at an unofficial function, the lack of female representation at the city’s top court.

Law professor Simon Young Ngai-man from the University of Hong Kong said it was possible Ma would invite Hale, but he and other scholars said there were no clear rules on the matter.

A courts spokesman said the judiciary would announce any new appointments “as and when appropriate”.

The chief justice, three permanent judges and a non-permanent judge serve at the Court of Final Appeal. Non-permanent judges are rotated in from a list of local judges and others from overseas common law jurisdictions.

Among the 12 foreigners currently on the list are Lord Neuberger, the soon-to-step-down UK Supreme Court president, and Lord Phillips, his predecessor.

Hale, who has argued for greater diversity within the judiciary, visited the University of Hong Kong last year to speak about her experience in the UK.

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Puja Kapai, an associate law professor who helped organise that event, said: “She’s the most down-to-earth and warm person, given her stature.”

Herself an advocate of greater female representation in the judiciary, Kapai said studies had shown diversity in groups can improve outcomes and decisions.

“In the same way, having [a woman serve at the top court] is definitely a significant milestone,” she said. She said it could help the top court envision a strategy for more diversity, and bring a different perspective to the bench.

Young noted Hale was a family law expert, and had shown sensitivity on issues around women and children in criminal cases.

“She can provide a broader perspective on a lot of issues,” he said.