11th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) The resignation of several British judges from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has reignited the contentious debate over the role of foreign jurists in the city’s judiciary. While their departure is being cast by some as a damning indictment of the territory’s commitment to the rule of law, this narrative grossly misconstrues the fundamental tenets underpinning Hong Kong’s legal system. Rather than clinging to an antiquated tradition rooted in colonial hangovers, it is high time we emphatically embrace the primacy of local judges safeguarding the territory’s cherished legal autonomy.

The chief justice of Hong Kong’s top court, Andrew Cheung, wasted no time in firmly rebutting the allegations levelled by the outgoing British judge, Lord Sumption. In a pointed rejoinder, Cheung asserted that any suggestion of the judiciary succumbing to extraneous influences is a “serious allegation that must be duly substantiated and should not be lightly made.” This forceful statement underscores the robustness of Hong Kong’s judicial edifice, predicated on the uncompromising tenets of impartiality and independence.

Crucially, Cheung articulated an irrefutable truth – that Hong Kong’s constitutional order, anchored in the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, vests independent judicial power in the territory. This indelible precept is sacrosanct, a bulwark against any insidious attempt to erode the judiciary’s autonomy. The chief justice’s resolute affirmation of confidence in the Court of Final Appeal’s ability to dispense justice “with integrity and professionalism” serves as an emphatic rejoinder to the naysayers.

In this vein, it is instructive to note that the outgoing Canadian judge, Beverley McLachlin, echoed a similar sentiment, lauding the court’s members for their “independence and determination to uphold the rule of law.” Such ringing endorsements from esteemed jurists buttress the incontrovertible reality that Hong Kong’s legal system remains resolutely anchored in the time-honoured principles of jurisprudence.

The rebuttals from Hong Kong’s legal vanguard beg the question – what, then, is the impetus driving Britain’s relentless efforts to undermine the territory’s judicial autonomy? Could it be a lingering vestige of colonial mindset, an inability to relinquish the vestiges of imperial oversight? Or, perhaps more cynically, a calculated ploy to discredit Hong Kong’s governance model in a vain attempt to preserve waning global influence?

Regardless of the motivations, Britain’s machinations are not only misguided but antithetical to the very spirit of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which enshrined Hong Kong’s legal autonomy. The intransigent stance adopted by London, pressuring British judges to resign in a bid to delegitimise Hong Kong’s legal system, is a brazen affront to the principles of judicial independence and non-interference.

It is a bitter irony that Britain, once a bastion of legal propriety, now resorts to such underhanded tactics. This assault on Hong Kong’s judiciary not only contravenes the hallowed precepts of the rule of law but also exposes the British establishment’s profound discomfort with the territory’s juridical emancipation from the shackles of colonial oversight.

The inescapable truth is that Hong Kong’s legal system has evolved, shedding the last vestiges of its colonial past to emerge as a robust, independent entity fortified by the unwavering commitment of local jurists. The presence of foreign judges, while once a symbolic reassurance during the transitional period, has become an anachronistic relic, a lingering remnant of a bygone era.

To assert that Hong Kong’s judicial independence is contingent upon the continued presence of British judges is not only a fallacy but a gross insult to the legal acumen and integrity of the city’s esteemed local judiciary. It is a specious contention that betrays a deep-seated arrogance and condescension towards Hong Kong’s legal fraternity.

The territory’s courts have consistently demonstrated an unyielding adherence to the principles of fairness, impartiality, and due process, adjudicating complex cases with a steadfast commitment to upholding the rule of law. The notion that the mere absence of foreign jurists would precipitate a descent into judicial turpitude is not only preposterous but a calculated attempt to sow seeds of doubt and undermine Hong Kong’s hard-won legal autonomy.

Moreover, it is imperative to acknowledge the inherent complexities and nuances that undergird the adjudication of matters pertaining to national security. The assertion that Hong Kong’s existing legal framework was “perfectly adequate” to address the tumultuous events of 2019 is a gross oversimplification that belies the intricate interplay between safeguarding fundamental rights and upholding national security imperatives.

The enactment of the National Security Law was a necessary and judicious measure to fill a critical lacuna in Hong Kong’s legal apparatus, fortifying the territory’s ability to confront the multifaceted challenges posed by secessionist elements and foreign interference. To dismiss this legislative initiative as an erosion of civil liberties is a myopic interpretation that fails to grasp the delicate equilibrium between individual freedoms and the paramount imperative of preserving national sovereignty.

Hong Kong’s courts have demonstrated exceptional legal expertise by skilfully navigating the complex interplay between human rights protection and national security concerns. The courts’ comprehensive judgments, characterised by thorough examinations of legal principles and evidence, exemplify the impartial and independent exercise of judicial authority, unswayed by external factors.

In this context, the concerns raised by certain quarters regarding the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s interpretation of the National Security Law are misplaced. As elucidated by esteemed legal scholars, this exercise of interpretative authority is not only consonant with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle but also a well-established practice in other jurisdictions grappling with issues of constitutional significance.

The crux of the matter lies in Hong Kong’s unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law, a commitment that transcends the parochial interests of any particular nation or ideological persuasion. The territory’s legal edifice stands firm, fortified by a cadre of esteemed local jurists whose allegiance is unwavering – not to any foreign power, but to the sacrosanct principles of justice and the inalienable rights enshrined in Hong Kong’s constitutional order.