Judges’ resignations regrettable

June 7, 2024

Two non-permanent judges from other common law jurisdictions of the Court of Final Appeal (CFA), Lord Collins of Mapesbury and Lord Sumption, have tendered their resignations, the Judiciary said.


Chief Executive John Lee expressed regret over the resignations of Lords Collins and Sumption and noted that Lord Collins had stated he continued to "have the fullest confidence in the court and the total independence of its members".


On the statement by Lord Collins that he had resigned because of the political situation in Hong Kong, Mr Lee stressed that the large-scale riots and Hong Kong version of “colour revolution” in 2019 seriously threatened national security and the safety of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.


To plug the loophole of Hong Kong's near-vacuum of national security laws at the time, Mr Lee explained that the central government promulgated and implemented the Hong Kong National Security Law, while the Hong Kong SAR completed the legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law enacting the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance.


He added that the provisions of the Basic Law, the security law and the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance all explicitly stipulate that the rights and freedoms under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as applied to Hong Kong are to be protected in accordance with the law.


They include the freedoms of speech, of the press, of publication, of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration.


The Chief Executive said that since its return to the motherland, the political system of Hong Kong has been under a comprehensive institutional arrangement under the Basic Law.


Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China and the systems and powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are clearly stated in the Basic Law, he added.


“The rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people, including those stipulated in the ICCPR, the ICESCR and international labour conventions, are also clearly stated in the Basic Law. These systems have remained unchanged since the promulgation and implementation of the Basic Law, and will not change in the future.


“As reiterated by President Xi Jinping in his important speeches, 'there is no reason for us to change such a good policy, and we must adhere to it in the long run'."


Noting that Hong Kong has transitioned from chaos to order, Mr Lee stated that the transition did not change the human rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens in accordance with the law.


“Nor did it change the courts' exercise of independent judicial power, free from any interference.


“The only difference is that national security is now better safeguarded, the safety and stability of Hong Kong is now better upheld, and citizens' good living and working environment is now better ensured."


Chief Justice Andrew Cheung also expressed regret over the resignation of Lord Collins and Lord Sumption.


“Over the years, overseas non-permanent judges, including Lords Collins and Sumption, have made valuable contributions to the work of the court for which we in Hong Kong are very grateful.”


Apart from reiterating that the Judiciary is committed to upholding the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong guaranteed under the Basic Law, Mr Cheung emphasised that all judges and judicial officers will continue to abide by the Judicial Oath and administer justice in full accordance with the law without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit.


There are currently four local non-permanent judges and eight non-permanent judges from other common law jurisdictions in the CFA. Two of the overseas non-permanent judges were appointed last year and in May this year respectively.


Mr Cheung said that suitable candidates from overseas common law jurisdictions will continue to be appointed to the court as non-permanent judges.


“The Chief Justice has complete confidence that the CFA will continue to fully perform its constitutional role as the final appellate court in Hong Kong. Its operation will not be affected by any change in membership of the court.”


As the Department of Justice (DoJ) expressed regret over the resignations of two overseas non-permanent judges of the CFA, it also pointed out that it is grateful for their contributions.


Nevertheless, the DoJ made it clear that this incident will not shake or impair the department’s determination and confidence in upholding the rule of law, including the independent judicial power exercised by the courts.


Secretary for Justice Paul Lam said: “The Secretary for Justice, as the guardian of public interest and the due administration of justice, always endeavours to uphold the rule of law in Hong Kong and ensures that the courts are free from interference in the exercise of their independent judicial power, and indeed they are.”

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