The two British Supreme Court justices sitting on Hong Kong’s highest court resigned on Wednesday, March 30. The British government judges its position “untenable” due to the national security law imposed by China on the former UK colony.
This decision, which questions provisions dating back to the return of the territory to China, responds to the repression that has taken place since the pro-democracy movement of 2020. “I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the Supreme Court justices cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration that has departed from the values of political freedom and freedom of expression.”Chief Justice Robert Reed said in announcing his departure and that of Vice President Patrick Hodge, “with immediate effect” of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
China said on Wednesday “strongly deplore” the UK decision. “Playing the card of foreign judges, [Londres] attempts to maliciously vilify China’s policies for Hong Kong and discredit the development of the rule of law in Hong Kong.”, estimated the commissioner’s office, which represents the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the territory. For former local government leader Leung Chun-ying, the Supreme Court judges’ decision is “negligible”. “It is an indelible stain on the independence of the British judicial system”added on Facebook, believing London had them “strengths” give up
“The situation has reached a critical point”
The UK Supreme Court had previously raised concerns about the national security law when it went into effect. Enacted 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, the authorities have cracked down on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of association.”denounced the British foreign minister, Liz Truss, in a release pull apart. “The situation has reached a critical point, where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit in the main court in Hong Kong, at the risk of legitimizing oppression.”she added.
His ministry did not say whether the other British judges also planned to retire, but said it was “increasingly untenable for the British government [les] to support “.
A “reputational blow” to the territory
Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based non-governmental organization (NGO), hoped that the other foreign judges would be “to follow his example” to the two superior magistrates. His resignation leads ” a hit “ to the Hong Kong authorities and the “reputation” of the territory, to which the judges took “an appearance 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 the magistrates of the Supreme Court 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 “there is 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 immigration rights, and ultimately access to British citizenship, for many inhabitants of the territory.
“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 concerns directly with the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities if they are not respected”UK Consul General in Hong Kong Brian Davidson said on Twitter.
Message from Consul General Brian Davidson following the announcement of the withdrawal of UK judges serving in the… https://t.co/bcEEl23so3
Under the agreement that provides for the return of this former British colony to China in 1997, British judges sit on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court. There are also retired judges from the UK, Australia or Canada.
In total, eight of the twelve non-permanent foreign justices are British, including those on the High Court.