HKSAR government firmly disagrees with Lord Sumption’s opinions on Hong Kong’s judicial system

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11th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) The HKSAR Government has vehemently refuted the opinions expressed by Lord Sumption regarding the rule of law and the independent judicial power in Hong Kong. Lord Sumption, who recently resigned as a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal of the HKSAR, made remarks that have been strongly contested by the government.

The HKSAR Government spokesperson emphasised that there is absolutely no truth to the claim that the HKSAR courts face any political pressure from the Central Authorities or the local government in the adjudication of national security cases or any other cases. Furthermore, they firmly asserted that there has been no decline in the rule of law within Hong Kong. Any suggestion to the contrary, regardless of the reasons or motives behind it, has been categorically denounced as completely baseless and incorrect.

While refraining from commenting on ongoing criminal proceedings, the government clarified that the Court of First Instance had determined that Legislative Council members have a constitutional duty to examine and approve budgets and government public expenditure proposals based on their merits. The indiscriminate vetoing of the government’s budget and public expenditure proposals, with the intention of forcing political demands and destabilising the government, was deemed an abuse of powers and a violation of the constitutional duty under Article 73 of the Basic Law, amounting to an offence of subversion of State power. The government warned against twisting the court’s judgment or attempting to interfere with the judicial process, asserting its commitment to setting the record straight.

The constitutional order of the HKSAR, established by the Constitution and the Basic Law, operates on the principle of “one country, two systems.” Under this framework, the National People’s Congress authorizes the HKSAR to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative, and independent judicial power, including final adjudication, in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law. Although national security falls outside the HKSAR’s high degree of autonomy, the Hong Kong National Security Law allows the HKSAR courts to exercise jurisdiction over cases related to offences endangering national security. This arrangement not only upholds the “one country, two systems” principle but also demonstrates the Central Authorities’ unwavering confidence in the HKSAR courts’ ability to independently exercise judicial power and safeguard national security.

The quintessential function of the judiciary is to administer justice according to the law. The jurisdiction of courts is defined by the constitutional order and laws of the legal system in which they operate. The HKSAR’s judicial system, protected by the Basic Law, guarantees independent judicial power. The courts exercise their jurisdiction independently and free from interference, as mandated by Articles 2, 19, and 85 of the Basic Law. All judges and judicial officers adhere to the Judicial Oath and administer justice without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit. Recent cases have illustrated the continued exercise of independent judicial power by the HKSAR courts. The publicly accessible judgments provide detailed analysis of the law, evidence, and reasoning, leaving no doubt about the courts’ impartiality and adherence to the law.

Even Lord Collins of Mapesbury, upon his resignation from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, expressed full confidence in the court and its members’ independence. Similarly, the Right Honourable Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin, upon retiring as a Non-Permanent Judge, reiterated her confidence in the independence of the court and its commitment to upholding the rule of law. The government extended gratitude to Madam Justice McLachlin for her contributions to the Hong Kong judicial system and her objective assessment of the rule of law in Hong Kong.

It is disheartening that Lord Sumption, who previously refused to participate in the political boycott of the Hong Kong Judiciary initiated by the U.K. Government, has now chosen to abandon his support for the Hong Kong judges. The greatest threats to the independent exercise of judicial power in the HKSAR courts come from external sources, including foreign government officials, politicians, and political organisations. These forces often attempt to interfere with ongoing legal proceedings and make baseless threats of imposing sanctions against judges based on their judgments. Such actions are contrary to fundamental principles of international law and international relations. The HKSAR Government has consistently defended the independent exercise of judicial power against such attacks and will continue to do so.

The Chief Executive, Mr. John Lee, emphasised that the HKSAR Government will never allow interference in the prosecutions of the Department of Justice or trials by the court. The government fully respects and safeguards the independent prosecutorial and adjudication powers, which are affirmatively protected by the Basic Law. The rule of law in Hong Kong remains strong and unwavering.