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Hong Kong Basic Law

Uphold Hong Kong’s rule of law, city’s first post-handover chief justice Andrew Li tells legal graduates

  • Retired judge also calls for a rebalancing of people’s rights and responsibilities, saying many think too much of their entitlements
PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 10:24pm

Hong Kong’s first post-handover chief justice has urged fresh graduates to uphold the rule of law, while calling for a redress to the balance between rights and responsibilities.

Andrew Li Kwok-nang also reminded graduating students from the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty not to be obsessed with material possessions.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Friday afternoon, Li said it was an occasion of historic significance as the law faculty was celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2018/19 academic year.

“When this law school was founded some 50 years ago in 1969, the world was a very different place. Compact discs were unknown, let alone computers and the internet,” he said. “Hong Kong had a Legislative Council, the members of which were all appointed by the governor. We had no cross-harbour tunnel at all.”

Li – who retired as the city’s top judge in 2010, having taken the job in 1997 as the city returned from British to Chinese rule – said graduates must always remember that law was an honourable profession requiring professional ethics.

“Lawyers must do their part to uphold the rule of law with an independent judiciary, which is of pivotal importance to Hong Kong under ‘one country two systems’,” he said. One country, two systems is the arrangement under which the city is ruled by China but guaranteed a measure of autonomy.

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Li has been a staunch defender of the rule of law in Hong Kong. In an interview with the Post in May last year, he said Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, in November 2016 had a “negative impact on at least the perception of Hong Kong’s judicial independence”.

The interpretation came during a legal tussle which ended with six elected pro-democracy lawmakers being barred from the Legislative Council over improperly taken oaths.

Addressing the graduates, Li said that in a highly materialistic world some people measured a person’s worth by how much they earned and spent.

“But legal professionals should not be obsessed with material possessions. I hope you will remember that we make a living by what we get but we make a life with what we give,” Li said.

“You must be prepared to contribute to the welfare of our society. Ultimately, our society must find its soul in its social conscience based on respect for human dignity.”

Li said that nowadays people around the world were very conscious of their rights and talked about their entitlements.

“Some even think and act in terms of what society owes them. But all rights should be exercised responsibly,” he said. “It is high time for the balance to be redressed and that we recognise and accord at least equal importance to our responsibilities.

“Responsibilities at various levels – to our country, China, to our community in Hong Kong, to our profession and to our family,” Li said. “I believe that developing a strong sense of responsibility of all citizens is of fundamental importance in our struggle for a better future.”