26 September 2023

HONG KONG: Judges quit over crackdown on liberties

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Several United Kingdom judges sitting on Hong Kong’s highest court have announced their resignations.

British judges have sat on the Court of Final Appeal since 1997 under an agreement involving the handover of Hong Kong to China, but those resigning said the continuing threat to civil liberties in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) made their role untenable.

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal hears many of the SAR’s highest-profile cases, often ruling on key questions over civil and political liberties.

Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam responded with “regret and disappointment” at the resignations.

However, the UK Government said it supported the decision, as the situation in the SAR had now reached “a tipping point”.

Following a crackdown on demonstrations calling for more democracy in Hong Kong, the Chinese Government introduced the National Security Law that curtailed freedom of speech and made it easier to punish protesters.

Supreme Court President, Lord Robert Reed said he and Lord Patrick Hodge were resigning from the court as a result.

“The judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression,” Lord Reed (pictured) said.

UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss said the continued participation of top British judges in Hong Kong was tantamount to legitimising oppression.

“We have seen a systematic erosion of liberty and democracy in Hong Kong since the National Security Law was imposed,” Ms Truss said.

A Chinese Government spokesperson said Beijing “strongly deplored” the judges’ decision to quit the court.

“Hong Kong is governed according to the rule of law and the UK is attempting to maliciously vilify China’s policies for Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Lam said the resignations meant the UK had effectively ended the agreement.

“We must vehemently refute any unfounded allegations that the judges’ resignations have anything to do with the introduction of the Hong Kong National Security Law or the exercise of freedom of speech and political freedom,” Ms Lam said.

Hong Kong, 1 April 2022

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