Chief justice speaks out on security law judges

Top News | Michael Shum 3 Jul 2020

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li says the chief executive should designate judges to handle national security cases based on their judicial and professional qualities instead of political considerations.

In a judiciary statement yesterday, Ma also said judges holding foreign nationalities should not be excluded from handling security cases.

This is the first time the chief justice spoke about the judicial process for national security cases after the law took effect on Tuesday night.

Ma wrote that judges should not be chosen on the basis of any political considerations.

"As the chief executive has recently made clear, designated judges are to be appointed on the basis of their judicial and professional qualities. These are the only criteria relevant for the appointment of judges," Ma said.

"This, therefore, means, for example, that judges should not be designated on the basis of any political considerations.

"This reinforces the principle that in the handling or determination of any legal dispute, only the law and legal principle will be considered."

Ma also said judges holding foreign nationalities should not be excluded.

"They are expressly permitted to be appointed as judges in Hong Kong under the Basic Law. Such judges' immense contribution to Hong Kong has repeatedly been acknowledged by the chief executive," Ma said.

He added the assignment of a judge or judges to handle cases or appeals will be determined by the court leader of the relevant level of court, which are matters within the sole responsibility of the judiciary.

"The independence of the judiciary and the rule of law are cornerstones of the Hong Kong community, and they are guaranteed under the Basic Law," Ma said. "It remains the mission and the constitutional duty of the Hong Kong judiciary to maintain and protect them."

But legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang said Ma's statement did not mention that the chief executive does not have to appoint judges based on the chief justice's nomination - but that only consultation might be needed.

"What happens if the chief executive opts not to consult the chief justice, or if the chief justice's recommendation fails to gain support from the committee for safeguarding national security or the chief executive?" Kwok said.

"Will the chief executive appoint a judge who does not have the chief justice's recommendation to preside over national security cases?"

This came after it was stated in the law that the chief executive "may consult the chief justice" as well as the committee for safeguarding national security before designating judges to deal with national security cases.

But Ma said the judges are to be designated by the chief executive "after consultation with the chief justice," citing a government booklet on the law issued on Wednesday, hours after the law was passed by Beijing.

Kwok, however, said articles of the national security law are very vague and that there are different interpretations among the pro-establishment camp, indicating the corruption of the rule of law.

"There is a very important principle in the rule of law, which is to clearly tell the public what is illegal and what is prohibited in the law," he said.

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