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No evidence that Hong Kong judges are prejudiced by ‘political persuasion’, city’s Law Society states

Top solicitors’ body responds to suggestions from top aide to Leung Chun-ying who said judges had to use political judgment when applying the law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 6:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 6:33am

Hong Kong’s Law Society delivered a stout defence of the city’s judiciary on Thursday, stating there was no evidence that judges were “prejudiced by any political persuasion” and warning against attempts to “introduce political or ideological screening” in judicial appointments.

The city’s top regulatory body for solicitors issued a statement hours after a trusted aide of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying suggested in a newspaper article that it was inevitable for judges in the city’s highest court to use political judgment when applying and explaining laws.

Although the body did not name anyone, it was understood that the strong statement was a direct rebuttal to Beijing loyalist Shiu Sin-por, who was referring to lawmakers’ recent approval of two foreign judges who are vocal supporters of same-sex rights joining the Court of Final Appeal.

Last month, 60 out of 62 lawmakers present at the Legislative Council said yes to Britain’s top judge Brenda Hale and Canada’s former top judge Beverley McLachlin becoming the first women to join the city’s highest court.

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The pair will begin their three year terms next month. Though Legco has never rejected the appointment of foreign or local judges, a handful of pro-establishment lawmakers voiced reservations on two fronts. Several were concerned about the judges views on same-sex equality, saying they were echoing concerns expressed by members of the public. However, others asked if they would uphold China’s national interests.

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the city’s largest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: “If there are cases related to Hong Kong independence put forth to the court, some citizens may be worried that the verdict would be affected by judges who are known for embracing a federal system.”

On Thursday, in an article published in Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao, Shiu argued that “the Court of Final Appeal is a political court per se”.

Known for his conservative stance, the former chief of the government’s think tank Central Policy Unit said it was inevitable to involve political judgment when Court of Final Appeal judges applied and explained laws, and when it came to the requirements on the appointment of CFA judges.

“It is a fact that Legco has never exercised its veto power regarding the appointment of judges in the past … but it is a separate issue on whether it could ‘interfere with or oppose’ [the appointment],” Shiu wrote.

“We cannot rashly conclude that the Legco should not or could not use such power simply because it has never ‘interfered with or opposed’ it,” he said.

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But the Law Society stressed that judicial and professional qualities were the only criteria for choosing judges, adding that screening them based on their political or ideological leanings was “ill-conceived and misplaced”.

“Such attempts will cause the public to query the impartiality and integrity of judges and will undermine public confidence in the rule of law,” the statement read.

The Law Society also said there was no basis for any suggestion that the any of the city’s courts may be prejudiced by any political persuasion when adjudicating cases – even though these might be politically, socially or culturally sensitive.

On Monday, Hong Kong’s chief justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li reaffirmed the presence of eminent foreign judges at the city’s top court. Those from top courts in Australia, Britain and other common law jurisdictions are “leading jurists of the present or indeed any generation” and helped add legal expertise to the city, he said.