Hong Kong’s top judge has warned against “repeated and gratuitous” questioning of the city’s judicial independence, calling on senior counsel to speak up and defend the reputation of the courts at home and abroad. Shortly after Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung made the remarks on Saturday, the Bar Association and Law Society denounced threats targeting judges, pointing to attempts to intimidate District Court judge Amanda Woodcock on Friday after she sentenced media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and other prominent opposition figures for their roles in an illegal rally. Delivering a speech at the Court of Final Appeal as he appointed four new senior counsel, Cheung said judges served “without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit”. “The judicial power is exercised independently by the courts, not subject to any interference,” he said. “Repeated and gratuitous questioning of the judiciary’s independence, whether domestic or from abroad, which is based on nothing but disagreement with court decisions, is damaging to the rule of law and maintenance of public confidence in our courts.” But he made no reference to the threats against Woodcock in the speech. Court rulings have come under greater scrutiny in the aftermath of the 2019 protest movement. While activists have sometimes decried the sentences given to their comrades, those same punishments have been attacked by others as too lenient. Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak received a bomb threat last December while handling another case involving Lai. Western officials and politicians have called charges against activists politically motivated and expressed concern over the imprisonments. A police source earlier told the Post Woodcock received three phone calls carrying intimidating and insulting messages directed at her and her family after Friday’s sentencing. Eight activists, including the already jailed Lai, were imprisoned for between 14 and 18 months, while two other defendants received suspended sentences of 14 months. Woodcock said the defendants made conscious decisions to break the law and challenge public order during a volatile period in society, adding “actions have consequences for everyone irrespective of who they are”. The Bar Association said judges must be able to carry out their duties free from any interference. “Any threat made with intent to frighten or to put pressure on a judicial officer to decide cases one way or another, is a serious assault on judicial independence,” it said, adding it condemned the threats in the “strongest possible terms”. Law Society President Melissa Kaye Pang also condemned the threats against the judge. “Judicial intimidation is not only a serious criminal offence, but also an abhorrent threat to judicial independence and the rule of law,” Pang said, as she urged law enforcement authorities to pursue the case with urgency. Judges told they need ‘accurate understanding’ of Chinese constitution on Beijing trip In his speech, the chief justice called on the senior members of the Bar Association to play a role in defending the reputation of the legal system. “As leaders of the Bar, who know from intimate first-hand experience how the courts actually function even in the most difficult and controversial of cases, senior counsel bear the responsibility, whenever the opportunity arises, of speaking up for the judiciary, not only in protection of judicial independence, but also in defence of its local and international reputation as an independent judiciary,” he said. “This is very much in the public interest and for the good of Hong Kong.” Justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said in her speech at the Court of Final Appeal that senior counsel were expected to play a crucial role in upholding and promoting the rule of law. One of the four senior counsel, Law Man-chung, said that although Hong Kong society was polarised, residents should consider the grounds behind court decisions and not weigh them according to their political views. Foreign judges are indispensable to our judicial independence Law said the city still enjoyed an independent judiciary even after Beijing imposed a national security law last year that banned acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. A provision allowed Hong Kong’s leader to draw up a list of judges to hear national security cases, although the names have only become public when the trials take place. The law also empowered the secretary for justice to require a case be tried without a jury for reasons such as protection of state secrets or the safety of jurors. The other new senior counsel were Norman Nip Sum-ping, Philip Chau Ka-chun and Vinci Lam Wing-sai. Lam is the deputy director of public prosecutions at the Department of Justice.