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British judges resign from Hong Kong court over security law

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the interior of the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) at Central in Hong Kong, China
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the interior of the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) at Central, in Hong Kong, China September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

March 30, 2022

By Michael Holden and Greg Torode

LONDON (Reuters) – Two senior British judges, including the President of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, announced their resignations from Hong Kong’s highest court, saying their role was untenable because of a security law China imposed on the former British colony.

Robert Reed, the chief justice of Britain, said on Wednesday that he and his colleague Patrick Hodge were stepping down as temporary judges at the Hong Kong Court of Appeal (HKCFA).

“I have come to the conclusion, in agreement with the government, that Supreme Court justices cannot continue to meet in Hong Kong without appearing to support a government that has deviated from the values ​​of political liberty and freedom of expression.” , Reed said in a statement.

“Lord Hodge and I have accordingly tendered our resignations as non-permanent judges of the HKCFA, effective immediately.”

Britain, which ruled Hong Kong for over 150 years until it was returned to China in 1997, said a sweeping security law Beijing imposed on the territory two years ago was in breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for it smoothed the handover.

Beijing says the law is necessary to bring stability to Hong Kong after it was rocked by protracted and sometimes violent anti-government protests in 2019, and that the legislation includes human rights protections.

Neither Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam nor Chief Justice Andrew Cheung immediately responded to Reuters requests for comment.

PRESSURE ON OTHER FOREIGN JUDGES

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Hong Kong has seen “a systematic erosion of freedom and democracy”.

“The situation has reached a tipping point where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s top court and (to do so) would risk legitimizing repression,” she added

Truss this month criticized Hong Kong authorities for accusing a UK-based human rights group of colluding with foreign forces in a “likely” breach of security law.

In a report on Hong Kong last December, she said that while judicial independence is becoming more delicate, she believes British judges can still “play a positive role in supporting that judicial independence”.

The presence of foreign judges in Hong Kong is enshrined in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that guarantees the liberties and broad autonomy of the global financial center under Chinese rule, including the continuation of Hong Kong’s common law traditions forged during the British colonial era.

Reed has previously said he would not serve in the HKCFA if the city’s judiciary was undermined.

Local lawyers said the resignations are likely to put pressure on the 10 other foreign appeals court judges to resign.

These judges from Britain, Canada and Australia are all retired senior lawyers in their home countries, unlike Reed and Hodge who were still in office.

“It’s a huge blow to the local fraternity and Hong Kong’s great tradition of rule of law,” a senior lawyer told Reuters. “With all the pressures ahead, we really needed them and I dread what’s next.”

In a statement Wednesday, Hong Kong Law Society President Chan Chak Ming called on Reed and Hodge to reconsider their moves, saying public and legal community support for the continued role of foreign judges is “disappointingly lacking “.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and William James in London and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Editing by Kate Holton, Barbara Lewis and John Stonestreet)

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Bobby Allyn

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