Lady Hale to quit role on Hong Kong court

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Ex-Supreme says decision to step down isn’t political

Supreme Court Lady Hale
Lady Hale

Lady Hale is to step down from Hong Kong’s top court.

The former Supreme Court president is not seeking another three-year term on the territory’s Court of Final Appeal after her current stint expires in July.

British judges, both sitting and retired, have been making cameo appearances as non-permanent judges since 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China, but their role has become increasingly controversial.

The Chinese government has been cracking down harshly on dissent in the supposedly autonomous region. In recent months, over 34,000 HongKongers have applied for a new visa enabling them to relocate to the UK.

Hale’s rationale for quitting is not political: she told a National Pro Bono Centre event last night that she just can’t see herself wanting to get on a plane to Hong Kong any time soon.

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But lining up a replacement for her could prove difficult, even if the move doesn’t put existing non-permanent judges under more pressure to quit.

Eight other UK judges contribute to the court’s work, from retirees like Lord Sumption and 87-year-old Lord Hoffman to the sitting president and vice-president of the Supreme Court.

The debate isn’t all one way. Many local lawyers and judges want the Brits to stay. Hale herself told the event: “the Hong Kong people and the Hong Kong judiciary want them to carry on”.

Sumption agrees, arguing recently that “the Chinese and Hong Kong governments have so far done nothing to interfere with the independence of the judiciary”.

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