Occupy Central

Respect the decisions made by Hong Kong’s courts

Whether we agree or disagree with rulings – as in the case of bailed student activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law – maintaining confidence in our independent judiciary is paramount

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 1:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 1:13am

The release of activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung on bail yesterday might ease concerns expressed by some about the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary since they were sent to jail in August. The former student leaders, prominent figures in the Occupy pro-democracy protests of 2014, will be at liberty at least until their bid to challenge their sentences in the Court of Final Appeal is heard on November 7.

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Their bail application, heard by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, was brief and the decision both humane and just. It recognises that it would be unfair to keep the pair behind bars if their appeals ultimately succeed and their prison sentences are quashed.

The decision will give the activists and their supporters hope. But the matter should not be prejudged. If the appeals fail, there is every chance the activists will have to return to jail to serve the rest of their sentences.

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Their release comes at a sensitive time. The prison terms, imposed by the Court of Appeal in August, sparked a strong reaction from critics of the ruling. The courts were accused of making a politically motivated decision. Last week, 12 prominent foreign lawyers issued a statement warning that the jailing of the activists highlighted a grave threat to the city’s independent judiciary and rule of law.

Such statements should not be merely brushed aside or swiftly dismissed as a failure to understand our legal system. The fact they are being made at all is a matter of concern. Perception is important and public confidence in Hong Kong’s independent judiciary vital to the successful operation of the city’s legal system. The government must meet such criticisms head on and defend Hong Kong’s independent judiciary whenever it comes under attack. The Department of Justice issued a detailed response to media inquiries about the opinions expressed by the foreign lawyers.

The decision to release the two activists on bail should be respected, as should any decision on their appeal, whatever that may be. We may agree or disagree with the court’s findings, but confidence in our judiciary must be maintained.