Tipped justice minister appears a wise choice for Hong Kong

With Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung having become too politicised, highly respected and politically neutral Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah is in line for top job

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 1:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 1:14am

Name a political crisis in recent years and Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung is likely to have had a hand in it.

The previous administration’s failed political reform for universal suffrage? Check.

The ongoing row over proposed joint checkpoints with mainland authorities, which the opposition claims is ceding the city’s rightful autonomy to the mainland, at the future express rail terminus in West Kowloon? Check.

Taking six opposition lawmakers to the courts to disqualify them over improper oath-taking? Check.

Successfully appealing the “lenient” sentencing of at least 16 pro-democracy protesters – three of whom became a cause célèbre for the international media, which has called them “prisoners of conscience”? Check.

For the opposition, the secretary for justice has come to stand for all that has gone wrong with the rule of law in Hong Kong. This is despite very strong counter arguments from legal experts to support each of those contentious government cases. It may not be all his fault; he was handed an impossible job portfolio. But he has become too politicised to be effective or credible in his job any more.

So it’s not surprising Yuen has wanted out for quite some time. He reportedly only agreed to stay on to finish his five-year tenure and take care of the controversial “co-location” arrangements at West Kowloon.

Arbitration legal eagle Teresa Cheng tipped to be Hong Kong’s next justice secretary

Now, a successor has reportedly been found, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah SC, a former chairwoman of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre who is highly respected in her field. While still subject to Beijing’s formal approval, her appointment appears to be a done deal.

Cheng represented the government in the landmark Congo case in 2011, which concerned Hong Kong’s policy on state immunity. The case triggered the first court request to Beijing for an interpretation of the Basic Law. So she is also an expert in constitutional law and foreign affairs.

But perhaps the real plus in her appointment is that she is not affiliated with one political bloc or another. That should help “depoliticise” her job and make it appear more neutral. Ronny Tong Ka-wah had sometimes been cited as a candidate for the post, but the former pan-democrat turned government-friendly politician is too tainted.

Some critics have complained no one really knows what Cheng’s political leanings are. That is, no doubt, due to the technical nature of her professional work. But in these troubled times, a neutral professional is a good choice for the top legal post.