Supreme Court says it can’t continue to endorse administration which has ‘departed from values of political freedom’
Two top UK judges have pulled out from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, saying they cannot continue to sit without appearing to endorse an administration which has “departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression”.
Lord Reed, president of the Supreme Court, today announced both Lord Hodge and his resignations as non-permanent judges of the HKCFA with immediate effect.
“I have been closely monitoring and assessing developments in Hong Kong, in discussion with the government,” said Lord Reed in a statement.
He said the judges of the Supreme Court and its predecessor, the House of Lords, have sat on the HKCFA since 1997, when the city state was handed back to China. The judges did so with the support of the government, which determined their participation was in the UK’s national interests.
“However, since the introduction of the Hong Kong national security law in 2020, this position has become increasingly finely balanced,” continued Lord Reed. “The courts in Hong Kong continue to be internationally respected for their commitment to the rule of law. Nevertheless, I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression, to which the Justices of the Supreme Court are deeply committed.”
“Lord Hodge and I have accordingly submitted our resignations as non-permanent judges of the HKCFA with immediate effect,” he said.
They were two of 12 overseas judges serving in Hong Kong, who also currently serve for the UK Supreme Court. It was agreed at the time of the Hong Kong handover that the UK would provide two serving Lords to sit in its final appeal court to safeguard the rule of law. Ever since, two judges have been provided in accordance with the agreement, until today.
Former Supremes Lord Neubuerger and Lord Sumption are still listed as non-permanent judges on the official HKCFA website, alongside retired judges from other common law jurisdictions. Ex-Supreme Court president Lady Hale stepped down from Hong Kong’s top bench last year following her retirement.
Since the 2020 national security law the Chinese government has been cracking down harshly on dissent in the supposedly autonomous region, and the role of judges became increasingly controversial.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss today welcomed the judges’ withdrawal, saying that “it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s leading court, and would risk legitimising oppression”.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab, agreed that “it is no longer appropriate for serving UK judges to continue sitting in Hong Kong courts”.
The UK last year set up a generous visa scheme allowing citizenship for tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents.