Hong Kong’s leader has denied this week’s appointment of an overseas judge to the city’s top court was prompted by the exit of an Australian justice over national security law concerns. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said at her Tuesday press briefing that the appointment of Mr Justice Patrick Hodge to the Court of Final Appeal had no relation to Mr Justice James Spigelman’s resignation on September 2, two years ahead of schedule. “There’s definitely no linkage between the two cases,” she said. Spigelman told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he quit the Hong Kong court for unspecified reasons related to the city’s national security law , which Beijing imposed to criminalise acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with external forces. His departure raised concerns about Hong Kong’s judicial independence and ability to attract foreign judges to the top court as Beijing places increasing emphasis on the city’s duty to protect national security after widespread anti-government protests. Hong Kong defends judicial independence after foreign judge quits top court Lam said the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission, a 10-member independent agency, could not have completed its recommendation process in the short span following Spigelman’s exit. On Monday, Lam accepted the independent commission’s recommendation to appoint Hodge to the top bench. After a likely endorsement from the Legislative Council, Hodge, also the deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, would become the fourth Lam-appointed, non-permanent judge from another common law jurisdiction and bring the number of foreign judges from 13 to 14. The Scottish judge declined on Monday to comment on his appointment. “The design of allowing us to invite overseas judges from other common law jurisdictions to sit on the Court of Final Appeal in the Basic Law is a very important feature to demonstrate, and to safeguard, judicial independence in Hong Kong,” Lam said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution. Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the UK’s Conservative Party and a member of the British Parliament, opposed the appointment saying it gave a “veneer of respectability to a government even now busy rounding up and arresting many civil rights activists in breach of the Sino-British agreement”. Hodge studied history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and read law at the University of Edinburgh. He was called to the Scottish bar in 1983 and appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1996, specialising in commercial, company and public law. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2013, he was a judge of the Court of Session, Scotland’s top civil court. In addition to his judicial career, Hodge is an honorary professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai. Does Hong Kong have ‘separation of powers’? It depends who you ask As a justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Hodge has regularly commented on China’s judicial system. In 2018, he told a conference in Britain that China did not practise the principle of judicial independence, the subject of a recent row in Hong Kong on the separation of powers. “In the largest county in the world, China, the role of the party in the constitution means that the concept of the rule of law does not involve judicial independence from the executive arm of government: the party is the guardian of the constitution,” he said. In a speech on fintech and the law in 2019, also held in Britain, Hodge described China’s social credit system , of accessing people’s behavioural data to reward and punish, as an example of authoritarian regimes using social control “in ways which pose serious challenges to Western concepts of human rights”. What is China’s social credit system and why is it controversial? Hodge has also led teams of British judges engaging in dialogue with their counterparts in China. In June 2019, he led a group of four British judges at the third meeting of the UK-China Joint Judicial Expert Working Group on Commercial Dispute Resolution in London with a Chinese delegation helmed by Zhang Yongjian, who sits on China’s Supreme People’s Court. He has also attended annual roundtable meetings between the British and Chinese supreme courts, discussing topics from environmental law to cross-border judicial cooperation on human trafficking and financial litigation. Also in 2018, Hodge gave a lecture at Shanghai Jiao Tong University on open justice and the transparency of the criminal justice system in Britain.