A senior British judge has announced she is to quit Hong Kong’s top court when her term ends, adding that there are “all sorts of question marks” over Beijing’s new National Security Law, British media reported yesterday.
Baroness Brenda Hale, the first female president of the British Supreme Court, is one of 13 foreign judges who are non-permanent members of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
Unlike mainland China, where the courts are beholden to the Chinese Communist Party, Hong Kong’s judicial system remains independent and based on common law — a major reason for its position as a global business hub.
Lawyers from common law jurisdictions are able to operate in the territory, while senior judges are invited to sit in its top court, but China’s imposition of the National Security Law last year has sparked concerns in some legal circles about whether judicial independence can be maintained.
The British government is currently reviewing whether to bar its judges from serving in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
Hale mentioned the impact of the security law as she announced she would not seek a second term in the court when her tenure ends next month, the Times reported.
“The jury is out on how they will be able to operate the new National Security Law. There are all sorts of question marks up in the air,” the Times quoted Hale as telling a videoconference on Thursday. “I don’t wish to be reappointed.”
Hale, who headed Britain’s top court from 2017 to last year, said that there are serious concerns about the law, but argued that the remaining foreign judges were “keeping an eye on what’s going on there,” the Times said.
Once Hale steps down there would be nine British judges in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. The remainder hail from other common law jurisdictions such as South Africa and Australia.
The territory’s top judge, Hong Kong Chief Justice Andrew Cheung (張舉能), has said that the judiciary remains free from political interference.
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