Two British judges sitting in Hong Kong resign over national security law

View of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, March 30, 2022.

The two judges of the British Supreme Court sitting in Hong Kong’s highest court resigned on Wednesday March 30. The British government judges their position “untenable” due to the national security law imposed by China on the former colony of the United Kingdom.

This decision, which calls into question provisions dating back to the return of the territory to China, comes in response to the repression that has taken place since the pro-democracy movement of 2020. “I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without seeming to endorse an administration which has departed from the values ​​of political freedom and freedom of expression”said Supreme Court President Robert Reed, announcing his departure and that of Vice President Patrick Hodge, ” with immediate effect “ of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

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“The situation has reached a critical point”

The UK Supreme Court had already raised concerns about the national security law when it came into force. Promulgated at the end of June 2020 after a wave of demonstrations for freedoms in Hong Kong, this law provides for the punishment of separatist activities, “terrorists”subversion or even foreign interference in the Chinese autonomous territory.

“We have seen a systematic erosion of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Since the imposition of the national security law, authorities have cracked down on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association”denounced the British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, in a separate press release. “The situation has reached a crisis point, where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit in the main court of Hong Kong, at the risk of legitimizing oppression”she added.

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His department did not say whether the other UK judges also intended to step down, but said it was “increasingly untenable for the British government to [les] to support “.

A “reputational blow” to the territory

Hong Kong Watch, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in the United Kingdom, hoped that the other foreign judges would go “to follow suit” to the two senior magistrates. Their resignation carries ” a knock “ to the Hong Kong authorities and the ” reputation “ of the territory, to which the judges brought “a veneer of respectability”one of its managers, Johnny Patterson, told Agence France-Presse.

A spokesman for one of the other non-permanent British judges in Hong Kong, Leonard Hoffmann, said the latter had “taken note” of the resignation of Supreme Court justices and that he would take it into consideration in his own decision. For Eric Lai, a specialist in the Hong Kong judicial system at the American University of Georgetown, it is not “no doubt that the remaining judges will reconsider their position (…) in light of the ongoing political repression in Hong Kong”.

A “despicable” decision

The British government had denounced the national security law as a “manifest violation” of the autonomy enjoyed by its former colony, deciding in response to extend the rights to immigration, and ultimately access to British citizenship, for many inhabitants of the territory.

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“We support the citizens of Hong Kong and the principles of freedom and democracy as promised in the joint statement” signed in 1984, “and we will continue to raise our concern directly with the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities if they are not respected”said on Twitter the consul general of the United Kingdom in Hong Kong, Brian Davidson.

For former local government leader Leung Chun-ying, the decision of the Supreme Court judges is on the contrary “despicable”. “It is an indelible stain on the independence of the British judicial system”he added on Facebook, believing that London had them ” strengths “ to resign.

In accordance with the agreement providing for the return of this former British colony to China in 1997, British judges sit on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, the highest court in Hong Kong. There are also retired judges from the United Kingdom, Australia or Canada.

In all, eight of the twelve non-permanent foreign magistrates are British, including those of the Supreme Court.

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The World with AFP

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