Hong Kong itself is undermining judicial independence
Jailing of student activists has brought a chorus of complaints about our judges, yet it was not long ago that the shoe was on the other foot
As thousands turned out to protest the latest jailing of young political activists on Sunday, it may be a good time for all of us to recall the prophetic words of Kemal Bokhary.
Five years ago, the retired Court of Final Appeal judge warned that “a storm of unprecedented ferocity” was gathering over the rule of law in Hong Kong. Sadly, his warning has come to pass. In a deeply divided society such as ours, judges and prosecutors find it increasingly difficult to make decisions and deliver rulings without being accused of political biases or hidden motives.
Many of those who marched in Sunday’s rally and others who took part in anti-government internet forums have been quick to paint the latest court judgments as “political persecution” at the behest of the Hong Kong and central governments. Whether they genuinely believe it or not, many are now shouting, “The rule of law is dead”. The claim is that our courts have turned “red” or are being “mainlandised”.
People have personal preferences and different political stances. They may agree or disagree with particular court rulings, especially those of a highly political nature involving anti-government activists. But to conclude from your own disagreements that the impartiality of our courts or the rule of law no longer exists is a dangerous leap.
Of course, all political sides have been guilty of making this unfounded claim. But the more it is repeated, the easier it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, it was the pro-government camp and its allies who first started to accuse judges of being closet “yellow ribbon” sympathisers when they committed protesters to community service rather than jailing them. Now that the Court of Appeal has toughened the sentences of 16 activists in two different cases to jail time, it’s the turn of the anti-government forces to round on the judges.
In February, thousands of police officers rallied in anger when seven of their colleagues were each jailed for two years after being found guilty of beating up Occupy protester Ken Tsang Kin-chiu. Practically every group that has a stake in political struggle has been upset at the courts for one decision or another. But that, fortunately, shows that our judicial officers are soldiering on valiantly in the face of unprecedented challenges and so are displeasing all sides.
People have long worried that Beijing will undermine judicial independence and the rule of law. Actually, we ourselves now pose the greatest threat.