Hong Kong will continue to invite foreign judges to sit in its courts, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday amid international concern about the impact of the sweeping national security law.
The city’s legal system remains “hard as a rock” she assured those worried over the ability of Hong Kong’s judicial system to uphold human rights while applying the new law.
Such worries intensified last week when the judiciary said British judge Brenda Hale would step down from the top court next month.
Hale, Britain’s former Supreme Court president, is one of 13 overseas non-permanent judges on the Court of Final Appeal, whose presence has long been seen as a symbol of the rule of law after Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997.
Hong Kong’s foreign judges stem from a necessary arrangement established at its 1997 handover to help maintain its credibility as an international financial hub.
The judges come from common law jurisdictions like Britain, Canada and Australia and serve as non-permanent members of the court, which means they are called on periodically to sit on cases.
Lam said, “The chief justice will continue to invite experienced overseas judges to Hong Kong courts.”
The judiciary said last week Hale did not wish to have her appointment extended “for personal reasons”.
In remarks made to a recent legal seminar in Britain, Hale said Hong Kong’s legal system “is functioning in accordance with the rule of law, at least as far as commercial law is concerned”.
She added, “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 current president of Britain’s Supreme Court, Robert Reed, is also on the Court of Final Appeal and recently met British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to discuss the situation under the new law.
Reed told a House of Lords’ panel in March he would not be prepared to serve or nominate any of his judges to serve if there was “any undermining of the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary”.
Australian judge James Spigelman resigned last September, citing the law in a comment to Australia’s national broadcaster, but other foreign judges have since extended their terms or joined the court.