Published: 15:36, June 16, 2024
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Confidence in HK’s rule of law won’t be dented by slanders
By Gang Aoping

British judge Jonathan Sumption hurled unsubstantiated allegations and slanders against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s legal system in an article and televised interviews after resigning from his post as an overseas nonpermanent judge in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. He must be an ardent believer in the “reiteration effect” theory, not realizing that repeating a lie won’t make it true but exposes the bigotry and prejudice of the disseminator.

Aside from defying the universally honored principle of not commenting on court cases undergoing legal proceedings, Sumption wantonly attacked Hong Kong’s legal system, denigrated the Judiciary, and insulted his former colleagues in a patronizing way, demonstrating the sort of arrogance typical of old colonial masters. But no matter how hard the likes of Sumption try to undermine confidence in the HKSAR’s rule of law, they’re doomed to fail in the same way as a swarm of ants trying to shake a tree.

READ MORE: Jonathan Sumption shames himself as a tool of the UK’s political machinations

That is because the rule of law in Hong Kong is underpinned by a solid institutional guarantee. The HKSAR’s Basic Law, enacted under the Chinese Constitution, grants the city independent judicial power, including the power of final adjudication, and explicitly stipulates that Hong Kong courts shall conduct trials independently, free from any interference. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed that the central government fully supports Hong Kong in maintaining its common law system. The report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China further declared that the central authorities back the HKSAR in improving its judicial institution and legal system.

Since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the rule of law has remained robust in the city, underpinned by the fundamental guarantee of the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law, and with the firm support of the central authorities. As Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said, judicial independence, embodied by courts at all levels conducting trials independently and free from interference, has become and remains part of Hong Kong’s “DNA”. How could Sumption have pretended to know nothing about this after having served in the city’s top court as a nonpermanent judge for five years?

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Hong Kong has built and maintained a global reputation for its robust rule of law, thanks to the collective efforts of the Judiciary and the legal community, which consists of an army of eminent legal professionals with a strong sense of responsibility who've dutifully carried out their mission to safeguard the rule of law.

In particular, judges at all levels of   Hong Kong courts have won wide acclaim and respect by consistently adhering to the principle of “administering justice in full accordance with the law, without fear or favor, self-interest or deceit”. They’ve not only played an important role in upholding the rule of law, fairness and justice in Hong Kong, as well as in safeguarding national security, but also demonstrated a firm determination to safeguard the fundamental interests of the country and the HKSAR, and to uphold “one country, two systems” and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

Verdicts handed down by HKSAR courts are frequently referenced by courts in other common law jurisdictions. Isn’t it natural that Sumption’s slander of Hong Kong judges has caused public outrage in the city’s judiciary and legal community and drawn condemnation from all sectors of society?

Hong Kong’s signature rule of law is recognized globally, as evidenced by the fact that Hong Kong has remained among the top in the global rule of law rankings. The city’s score in global good governance ratings has improved significantly since the handover in 1997. Hong Kong’s score in the Worldwide Governance Indicators -- a good governance index released and updated by the World Bank annually -- has remained at above 90 since 2003, a significant rise from the 69.85 in 1996. Hong Kong was ranked 23 among 142 jurisdictions in the 2023 WJP Rule of Law Index, ahead of some major Western democracies such as Spain (24), the United States (26) and Italy (32).

READ MORE: International arbitration: Hong Kong shows the way

It is also widely known that Hong Kong is very competitive globally in legal and dispute resolution services, underpinned by a number of world-class arbitration institutions, mediation-related organizations, and the local offices of more than half of the world's top 100 law firms, all of which are staffed by multilingual legal professionals.

In May this year, the 26th International Council for Commercial Arbitration Services Congress, known as “the Olympics of international commercial arbitration”, was held in Hong Kong, attracting more than 1,400 arbitrators, lawyers, judges and other legal professionals from over 70 jurisdictions worldwide.

In the same month, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption and the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities jointly held the 8th ICAC Symposium, an international anti-corruption conference, in Hong Kong. The global event drew a record-high attendance of over 500 anti-graft officers, judges, prosecutors, regulators and academics from some 180 anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies across nearly 60 jurisdictions and six continents, and concluded with the issuance of the Hong Kong Declaration on Strengthening International Cooperation in Preventing and Fighting Corruption.

All these global indices and events attest to Hong Kong’s status as one of the jurisdictions with the most robust rule of law in the world.

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Hong Kong’s signature rule of law has earned the endorsement of global capital and talent. Nothing is a more essential ingredient than the rule of law for a good business environment; and by “voting with their feet”, global capital and talent give a nod to the rule of law in a certain place. The robust rule of law has long been one of the cornerstones of Hong Kong’s core competitiveness. With the establishment and improvement of the legal system and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security in Hong Kong, the city has successfully transitioned from chaos to good governance and prosperity. The benefits of better safeguarding the rule of law have become more apparent; the business environment has further improved; and the confidence of global capital and talent in Hong Kong has continued to grow. According to statistics, the total number of overseas and Chinese mainland-based companies operating in Hong Kong reached 9,039 at the end of last year, having returned to the pre-COVID-19 pandemic level; while the number of startups hit a record high of 4,257 – about 25 percent of which were set up by overseas investors.

According to a survey commissioned by a major foreign chamber of commerce in Hong Kong earlier this year, nearly 80 percent of its members said they have confidence in Hong Kong’s rule of law. By late last year, total bank deposits in the city had grown to HK$16.22 trillion ($2.08 trillion) – up 5.07 percent year-on-year. By the end of May this year, various talent admission schemes launched by the HKSAR government had received more than 300,000 applications, with nearly 190,000 of them having been approved. So far, more than 120,000 professionals have arrived in the city.

READ MORE: Resilient Hong Kong repeatedly bounces back

Hong Kong has been the premier operating base in Asia for mainland and international banks, as well as the biggest international asset management center, the largest cross-border private wealth management hub, the largest hedge fund operating pivot and the second-largest private fund center in Asia.

Arguably, global capital and talent have cast a vote of confidence in Hong Kong’s rule of law by pouring their money into and flocking to the city.

The HKSAR’s rule of law is as solid as a rock, so is the confidence in its robustness, which can’t be shaken by the slanders hurled by China-bashers. David Neuberger, who was president of the UK Supreme Court from 2012-17, and who has refused to bow to pressure to step down, is among three British nonpermanent judges to remain serving in Hong Kong’s top court. He told the media in the face of mounting pressure on the remaining overseas judges to resign: “Hong Kong has an impressive and independent judiciary and a thriving and able legal profession, both of which benefit the people of Hong Kong and contribute to the rule of law. They deserve support, not undermining.”

Will Sumption take heed of what his former colleague has said?

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.