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Hong Kong courts

First women judges will be of great benefit to top Hong Kong court

Common sense prevailed over politics with lawmakers approving the appointment of the two legal stars despite some earlier doubts about their views on same-sex marriage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 3:44am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 3:45am

Two foreign female judges are set to sit on Hong Kong’s top court following overwhelming support for their appointment in a vote by lawmakers. The vote in favour of hiring these two international stars of the legal world shows that common sense has prevailed over politics.

There is not usually any doubt about the outcome of a Legislative Council vote on new Court of Final Appeal judges. Lawmakers have a duty to consider whether the candidates, selected by an independent committee and appointed by the chief executive, are suitable.

This time, however, the appointment of the United Kingdom’s Britain’s top judge, Brenda Hale, and Canada’s former head judge, Beverley McLachlin, raised concerns among some pro-establishment lawmakers.

During the debate, it was suggested by one legislator that the two new judges, who are seen as supporters of LGBT rights, should recuse themselves from any case involving the issue of same-sex marriage. Another argued the judiciary should consider the national interest before handing certain cases to foreign judges.

Such suggestions are misconceived. The experience of these two judges in hearing discrimination cases will be valuable when they arise. Indeed, the top court has already followed Hale’s reasoning in two cases concerning same-sex rights.

Judges serve the national interest by deciding cases freely, fairly and in strict accordance with Hong Kong’s laws and the Basic Law. That is their only responsibility. Any attempt to exclude judges from certain cases on such grounds risks politicising the judiciary and undermining its independence.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers voice concerns over foreign judges' support for gay rights

Lawmakers are entitled to express their views, especially if they are voicing the opinions of their constituents. The strong vote in favour of appointing the judges – one lawmaker abstained – shows the Legislative Council understands that these appointments will be good for Hong Kong.

The presence of foreign judges helps differentiate the city’s legal system from that of the mainland under the “one country, two systems” concept. These two judges are the first women to be appointed to the top court.

That is welcome as it brings greater diversity to the Court of Final Appeal. But the value of these excellent appointments lies in the experience, ability and character of the two judges. Their presence will enhance the reputation of our top court.