Poker-faced chief judge finally plays the joker

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 July, 2003, 12:00am

Arthur Leong ends his distinguished career with a light-hearted last sitting


After more than 30 years as one of the stoic faces of Hong Kong's justice system, the outgoing Chief Judge of the High Court let the mask slip during his farewell sitting with invited guests yesterday.


A packed courtroom erupted into peals of laughter as Mr Justice Arthur Leong Shiu-chung shared tales from his distinguished career.


Mr Justice Leong said he started life in the judiciary by composing new laws for Hong Kong in the early 1970s.


'The fine art of legislative drafting was, so I was taught, no more than copying from other jurisdictions without letting others know you are copying,' he said.


'And remembering always to delete the words 'this Act does not apply to Northern Ireland' when copying from English statutes.'


From there, he moved to the magistracy in 1973 after being persuaded with the words: 'You are not obliged to go unless you wish to do so but any refusal may be recorded in writing and may be used in future.'


Mr Justice Leong recalled a courtroom in Western Magistracy where defendants trembled when giving evidence in the witness box. 'Thinking that the defendants tremble in awe in the shadow of your mighty presence, you rubbed your hands with glee, only to find out, to your dismay that it was only the effect of the vibration from the [air-conditioning plant] next door,' he said.


Next was his stint as Presiding Officer of the Labour Tribunal, which was situated in the Whitfield barracks in Middle Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. He said the court rooms were sandwiched between parking lots, a petrol station and a 'strategically located public convenience'.


'The mixture [of smells] permeated the air,' he said. 'The parties were keen to leave. They settled. The court was adjourned. The judge was happy.'


From there he moved to the District Court in 1982 and then on to the High Court, his home since in 1991.


Mr Justice Leong presided over the Court of Appeal in 1997.


In 2001, he agreed to delay his retirement to serve as Chief Judge of the High Court.


Mr Justice Geoffrey Ma will take over as Chief Judge on July 14.