July 6, 2022

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Britain withdraws judges from Hong Kong's highest court

Britain withdraws judges from Hong Kong’s highest court

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We have witnessed a systematic erosion of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.” In a statement Wednesday. “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,” she said, adding that her country’s judges “can no longer continue” in court.

at Strong replyIn Hong Kong, the government said the national security law was typical for any country seeking to defend itself, and described the British move as “appalling”.

We strongly exclude ridiculous and misleading accusations against national security law and our legal system. The statement said that every country in the world will take threats to its national security seriously.

Two British judges had been working on the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court, before both resigned Wednesday, coinciding with the British government’s announcement.

The Court of Final Appeal is made up of permanent judges and other non-permanent judges who can come from any jurisdiction under common law. Hong Kong, a former British colony, inherited the common law system, which it maintained even after the 1997 handover of power to China under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Under this framework and Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the courts are supposed to be independent of political influence and of mainland China, which has boosted Hong Kong’s attractiveness to foreign companies.

Hong Kong within the framework of “one country, two systems” has one of the most respected courts and judicial systems in Asia, which is seen as free from interference, unlike the judicial system in the mainland. Hong Kong is a hub for arbitration and home to many international law firms and top legal talent.

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Eric Yan Ho Lai, a Hong Kong law fellow at Georgetown University’s Asian Law Center, said the two British judges’ withdrawal was a “vote of no confidence in the entire political and legal environment after the National Security Act”. “Business groups will also read this move as an indication of the integrity of Hong Kong’s legal system now.”

Common law jurisdictions include Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and judges from all of those countries have sat in the Court of Final Appeal as non-permanent judges. Australian judge Leaving the Supreme Court in September 2020citing the content of the National Security Act.

Now a handful of Australian and Canadian judges are the only foreign judges left after their resignations on Wednesday. Canadian Justice, former Chief Justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, Beverly MacLachlin, defended her decision to stay In an interview with the Canadian National Post in Augustdescribing the court as “perhaps the last bastion of a healthy democracy” in Hong Kong.

Lord Robert Reid, who is also the chief justice of Britain’s Supreme Court, said in a statement announcing his resignation on Wednesday that Supreme Court justices “cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to support an administration that has departed from the political values ​​of freedom and freedom of expression.”

Hong Kong was rocked by anti-government protests in 2019, sparked by fears that the legal firewall between the territory and mainland China was being eroded by a bill that would allow extraditions between the two countries. It has turned into a blanket rebuke to China and the Hong Kong government. In 2020, China bypassed the Hong Kong legislature and passed a sweeping national security law that has since criminalized dissent and silenced and imprisoned dissent.

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The legal system has been an important part of that process, and judges now have to implement a national security law drafted by China, which, among other things, refuses to release on bail suspects detained for political crimes even before they are proven guilty. All prominent Hong Kong activists, including media mogul Jimmy Lai, young protest leader Joshua Wong and others, are in custody.

Jimmy Lai was The Court of Final Appeal denied bailThis precedent of bail has been applied to dozens of other political activists and former lawmakers in detention. Several key pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong – lawyers, LGBT activists, social workers and students – have been in detention for more than a year while their trial under the National Security Act continues.

Britain’s decision comes after months of pressure from British parliamentarians and activists who have argued since the passage of the National Security Act that foreign judges have no place in court. They argued that these judges could not act as moderate forces but would legitimize political repression there. The judges who oversee national security cases are handpicked, and can be replaced after one year.

“For too long, British judges have acted as embellishments for the Chinese government’s brutal crackdown on all forms of political dissent in Hong Kong,” said Afzal Khan, a member of the British Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. “This announcement is welcome and long overdue.”