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Global Times

HK judicial reform urged for legal system's integrity

Global Times

By Zhao Yu, Bai Yunyi and Cheng Zhong in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/11 0:13:39

Judges' personal political views would jeopardize independence, integrity

Judicial reform is needed to guarantee the fairness and integrity of the legal system in Hong Kong, legal experts told the Global Times, after an outspoken lawmaker suggested the authorities should investigate judges who support anti-extradition forces.

Pro-establishment legislator Priscilla Leung suggested in a recent Legislative Council meeting that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government should look into judges who support anti-extradition forces and jeopardize the integrity of the judiciary in Hong Kong.

Three anonymous judges and some lawyers claimed that the now withdrawn extradition bill posed serious challenges to the city's legal system, according to a Reuters report in May.

They pointed out at that time that extraditions based on presumption of a fair trial and humane punishment "contradicted" the legal system in the Chinese mainland, the media report said.

Besides the three anonymous Hong Kong judges, Judge Patrick Li Hon-leung's signature was also seen on a petition lodged by alumni of the University of Hong Kong on May 26, urging the government to withdraw the proposed amendment, according to a June report by the South Morning China Post.

"Publicly showing their tilting opinion on the extradition bill would raise concerns over whether the judges' attitude would influence their judgment," Leung said.

Leung urged Hong Kong SAR judges to sign a statutory declaration stating they are not among the three anonymous judges. A statutory declaration can have legal effect.

Leung is not the only legislator who has raised concerns about the ultimate neutrality of judges. Regina Ip, the chairperson of the New People's Party, has accused some judges of lacking judicial professionalism and holding very biased political beliefs, according to local media reports.

Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, told the Global Times that judges cannot and should not publicly express their opinions on political issues, as such a behavior would jeopardize the independence and integrity of the judicial process.

"Justice has to be done but also has to be seen to be done," he said. If a judge publicly supports the violence, when he handles a case involving rioters who took part in street protests, no matter how fair his court verdict, it will look like he had showed lenience toward protesters, the chairman said.

"Of course, that's not to say judges can't have certain political intentions like voting for their favored candidates or parties in elections. But it's not appropriate for them to publicly express their political views, especially under such circumstances," Ma added.

Some legal experts and officials also called for reforms inside the Hong Kong judicial system in terms of not only the judge appointment mechanism but also improving certain legal terms to curb rising secessionism, which has inflamed the anti-government riots over the past few months.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said the establishment of a sound legal system to protect national security has become an urgent issue, according to media reports.

In order to guarantee the integrity of Hong Kong judges, authorities should carry out some reforms in the judge appointment mechanism such as tenure of judges.

"After Li signed the petition for the anti-extradition bill, the chief judge of the Court of Final Appeal could only advise him but cannot take action against him, which may pose threat to fair trial in judicial process," Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, told the Global Times.

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