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British judges resign from Hong Kong court over China’s crackdown on dissent

British judges resign from Hong Kong court over China's crackdown on dissent

A general view appears at the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) in Central, in Hong Kong, China on September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

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LONDON/HONG KONG (March 30) (Reuters) – Two senior British judges, including the chief justice of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, resigned from Hong Kong’s highest court on Wednesday over a sweeping national security law imposed by China that previously cracked down on dissent. British colony.

Robert Reed, who heads Britain’s highest judicial body, said he and colleague Patrick Hodge would step down from their roles with immediate effect as non-permanent judges at the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

“I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that Supreme Court justices cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to support an administration that has departed from the values โ€‹โ€‹of political freedom and freedom of expression,” Reid said in a statement. statment.

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Britain, which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, said a security law that punishes crimes such as vandalism up to life imprisonment has been used to curb dissent and freedoms. London also says the law is a violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for the extradition.

Many Democratic activists in the city have been arrested, arrested or forced into exile, civil society organizations have closed their doors, and liberal media have been forced to close under a crackdown since the law was enacted in June 2020.

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Beijing says the law brought stability to Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of sometimes violent anti-government street protests in 2019, and that it includes human rights guarantees.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam expressed her “regret and disappointment” over the move.

In a statement, Lam said foreign judges had made a valuable contribution to Hong Kong over 25 years, but “we must firmly refute any baseless allegations that the judges’ resignations are related to … the national security law.”

Hong Kong Chief Justice Andrew Cheung said in a statement that he noted “with regret” Reed and Hodge’s resignation, saying the judiciary was committed to the rule of law.

Pressure on other foreign judges

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Hong Kong had experienced a “systemic erosion of freedom and democracy”.

“The situation has reached a tipping point where British judges can no longer sit in the main court in Hong Kong, and (this) would risk legitimizing persecution,” she added.

This month, Truss criticized Hong Kong authorities for accusing British-based human rights groups of colluding with foreign forces in a “possible” violation of security law. Read more

In a report on Hong Kong last December, she said that while judicial independence had become increasingly balanced, she believed British judges still “play a positive role in upholding this judicial independence”.

The presence of foreign judges in Hong Kong is enshrined in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that guarantees the freedoms of the global financial center and broad autonomy under Chinese rule, including the continuation of Hong Kong’s common law traditions that arose during the colonial era.

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Reid had previously said he would not serve in the HKCFA if the city’s judiciary was undermined.

Local lawyers said the resignations would likely pressure ten other foreign judges in the Court of Final Appeal to resign. Six of these are British.

These judges, who are also from Canada and Australia, are mostly retired senior judges in their home countries, unlike Reed and Hodge, who were still in service.

Two other foreign judges, Britain’s Brenda Hill and Australia’s James Spiegelman, have also resigned from the city’s highest court since 2020.

“It is a huge blow to the local brotherhood and the great tradition of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” a veteran lawyer told Reuters. “Despite all the pressure ahead, we really needed it and I’m afraid what’s going to happen next.”

In a statement released on Wednesday, Chan Chak-Ming, president of the Law Society of Hong Kong, urged Reed and Hodge to reconsider their moves, expressing his “deep regret”, saying the decision was “disappointing” that the decision “does not rise to the level of support among the public.” and the legal community for the continuation of that.โ€ The role of judges abroad.

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Additional reporting by Michael Holden and William James in London and Greg Torode and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Editing by Kate Holton, Barbara Lewis, John Stonestreet and Nick McPhee

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.