Hong Kong courts

Foreign female judges are a welcome sight at Hong Kong’s top court

Brenda Hale from Britain and Beverley McLachlin from Canada are both highly respected, experienced and avowedly independent in their decisions, they will help boost confidence in the rule of law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 1:42am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 3:10am

The appointment of two distinguished foreign female judges to Hong Kong’s top court is a welcome development which breaks new ground. Baroness Brenda Hale, from Britain, and Canada’s Beverley McLachlin are the first women to become non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal. For that reason alone, their appointment is to be applauded. The introduction of female judges to the bench of the top court is long overdue. Judges make decisions that can have a big impact on the way in which a society develops. Bringing greater diversity to the judiciary will increase public confidence in the courts and the rulings they make.

But the appointment of these two judges is welcome for reasons that go far beyond their gender. They are both highly respected, experienced, and avowedly independent judges with proven track records at the highest level of their profession. Hale is president of Britain’s Supreme Court. A family law expert, she became a High Court judge in 1994 and joined the Supreme Court in 2009.

Two foreign female judges make history with appointments to Hong Kong’s top court

Hale, who went to a state school, has championed diversity in the British judiciary, where the ranks of senior judges have traditionally been dominated by white men from elite schools. Her influence has already been felt in Hong Kong, with the top court adopting her reasoning in two cases on gay rights.

McLachlin, the first Canadian to be appointed to the Court of Final Appeal, was until recently chief justice of that country’s Supreme Court. Known to be a fierce defender of judicial independence and the rule of law, she spent 28 years on the Supreme Court bench.

The two judges, along with their 12 foreign counterparts on the top court, bring valuable expertise and experience to the bench. Foreign judges have, from time to time, come under fire from some sectors in Hong Kong who have disagreed with their judgments. But their presence on the top court is provided for by the city’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law.

Hong Kong’s latest top court appointments send a signal that the rule of law remains strong

The foreign judges have helped establish a strong reputation for the court in the common law world. Their participation underlines the difference between Hong Kong’s legal system and that of the mainland under one “country, two systems”. Serving part-time and sitting with four local judges, they provide a fresh perspective and help boost confidence in the rule of law.

Hong Kong judges are paid well for their services. We expect the highest standards from them. Foreign judges need to be aware of the unique constitutional arrangements in Hong Kong, as well as the political tensions that can make cases sensitive. The two new recruits are well-suited to the task. We look forward to them making a valuable contribution to the city’s jurisprudence.