Published: 16:01, June 11, 2024
Lee: Free courts are in Hong Kong’s DNA
By Wu Kunling in Hong Kong
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu answers questions from members of the media during a press conference ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on June 11, 2024. (PHOTO / HKSAR GOVERNMENT)

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said that Hong Kong courts are strictly independent and free from political interference, as he strongly refuted a recently departed British judge’s attack on the city’s rule of law.

“Hong Kong’s courts have always conducted independent trials without any interference, and they will continue to do so in the future,” Lee said on Tuesday. “It is in the DNA of Hong Kong not to intervene in court cases.”

The Hong Kong Judiciary confirmed on Thursday that Jonathan Sumption and Lawrence Collins — both British non-permanent judges serving on the Court of Final Appeal — had submitted their resignations to Lee.

Hong Kong’s judges have upheld judicial justice with a fearless and impartial spirit in spite of the threats and despicable acts of interference from overseas, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said, adding that he feels proud of the city’s judges

After resigning, Sumption published an article in the British media saying that the rule of law in Hong Kong is in grave danger after the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. He said that many judges are “intimidated or convinced by the darkening political mood”.

In response, Lee told the press that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has never interfered in the city’s judicial independence, pointing the finger instead at the British officials, politicians and anti-China media that have sought to trample on the rule of law by openly threatening and sanctioning judges before, during and after trials.

However, Hong Kong’s judges have upheld judicial justice with a fearless and impartial spirit in spite of the threats and despicable acts of interference from overseas, Lee said, adding that he feels proud of the city’s judges.

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This photo dated Dec 2, 2021 shows the Court of Final Appeal Building in Hong Kong. (PHOTO / HKSAR GOVERNMENT)

Lee accepted that judges have personal views, but said, “A judge may like or dislike certain political systems or laws, but their professional standards lie in their legal knowledge and experience, not in their political stance.”

He also mentioned that Sumption had refused to participate in the political boycott of the Hong Kong Judiciary instigated by the British government in 2021, citing the former judge’s previous statement that democracy and the rule of law are two different things and should not be conflated. Lee said the Sumption’s latest remarks contradict what he said at that time.

Earlier on Tuesday, the HKSAR government issued a statement nearly 3,000 words long in response to Sumption’s comments. It underlined that the HKSAR’s unique constitutional order has effectively guaranteed the independent exercise of judicial power, adding that the city’s national security laws have included provisions to protect human rights.

Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal said that judges at every level adhere to the judicial oath to decide cases impartially and independently, in accordance with the law and evidence.

Cheung said he has every confidence that the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal will continue to act with integrity and professionalism in handling any appeals.

Senior Counsel and former Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross emphasized that like all other jurisdictions, Hong Kong needs judges who decide cases on their merits. He said that a judge with a personal political ideology should not be sitting on cases, given the fundamental principle that justice must be seen to be done.

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Besides British judges, Cross suggested the judiciary look for more judges from other common law jurisdictions, including places like Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Africa and Ireland. They must be focused jurists, not publicity seekers, the counsel added.