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Hong Kong courts

Top Hong Kong judge calls for urgent reboot of democracy movement in city at forum on rule of law

  • Kemal Bokhary says time has come to push for renewal of democratic movement in speech at University of Hong Kong
  • Barrister Gladys Li echoes sentiments and highlights Beijing’s ‘untrammelled power’ when it comes to Basic Law
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2018, 7:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2018, 10:39pm

The democratic movement in Hong Kong needs a reboot, a top judge told a forum on the rule of law in the city.

Expressing concerns over judicial autonomy, Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, of the Court of Final Appeal, said democracy in Hong Kong had stalled and restarting it was a matter of urgency.

The non-permanent judge made his remarks at the University of Hong Kong, where he also highlighted the impact from Beijing when it came to the interpretation of the Basic Law.

“Democratic development has ground to a halt in Hong Kong,” said the judge, who is known for his outspokenness.

Bokhary’s warning was echoed by Gladys Li SC, who called Beijing’s “untrammelled power” the greatest danger to the rule of law in Hong Kong.

“An urgent restart is needed,” Bokhary added, and said it would be pivotal to the success of the “one country, two systems” arrangement under which Hong Kong is to be governed until at least 2047.

The judge said he would leave it to the public to decide whether there was still rule of law in the city, but even an answer in the affirmative would be no excuse to delay the development of democracy in Hong Kong.

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Both Bokhary and Li expressed concern over Beijing’s power to interpret the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, at the forum, which was organised by the Project Citizen Foundation, a group of lawyers, former journalists and ex-officials, which includes former Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang.

The power, enshrined in the Basic Law, sparked controversy in 2015 when the National People’s Congress Standing Committee deployed it to influence court rulings in Hong Kong on the disqualification of six pan-democratic or pro-independence lawmakers.

Bokhary warned of the possible demise of the justice system, and said “reducing what judges can decide, certainly reduces the judiciary”.

“For judges ever to decide other than in accordance to the strict fidelity of the law, because of some explicit or tacit political branches of government, would destroy the judiciary,” he said.

Li, meanwhile, warned that the problem lay in the fact the power was legislative in nature. So through it, Beijing was able to interpret all the provisions of the Basic Law, which were originally written in to protect the rights of people in Hong Kong.

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As a result, she said, the interpretation used earlier to disqualify legislators had recently been used to ban Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, an advocate for Hong Kong’s self-determination, from running in the rural representative election.

A move critics have said would not have been legal in the past.

“This is what happens when you have the untrammelled power of interpretation,” she said. “This is the greatest danger I see to the rule of law.”

The forum was succinctly summed up by the retired vice-president of United Kingdom’s Supreme Court Lord, Jonathan Mance, who also spoke at the event.

“Happily, in Hong Kong, only subject to the possibility of the interpretation by the standing committee, there remains an independent and highly competent judiciary,” he said.