Pro-Beijing fears eased over top court choice

Top News | Jane Cheung 29 Oct 2020

British Supreme Court deputy president Patrick Hodge, who has been recommended as the Court of Final Appeal's non-permanent judge, has no problem understanding the Basic Law and "one country, two systems," the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission said.

In a Legislative Council subcommittee on proposed senior judicial appointments meeting yesterday, a majority of lawmakers supported Hodge becoming the 14th non-permanent judge in the SAR's highest court.

The bill regarding his recommendation will be discussed in a Legco meeting before lawmakers cast their votes.

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmakers Elizabeth Quat and Holden Chow were concerned whether Hodge has adequate knowledge of Hong Kong's legal system.

However, judiciary administrator Esther Leung Yuet-yin said all foreign judges come from common law jurisdictions and make an oath according to the Basic Law.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun pointed out pro-Beijing politicians' suggestion to set up a judiciary education institution to teach foreign judges about Hong Kong's constitutional law to question whether they are advocating that foreign judges be trained under the Communist Party.

Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang from the Civic Party said the legal industry is strongly against the suggestion, adding if a candidate is not suitable for the Court of Final Appeal non-permanent judge position, the commission would not even consider him.

Kwok said he believes Hodge is a promising candidate and wishes the judiciary would reach out to more experienced foreign judges to work for Hong Kong.

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said Australian judge James Spigelman resigned last month, a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Hong Kong did not exercise separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, and that all three are accountable to her and the Beijing government.

"The fact that Hodge is willing to take the position shows that Hong Kong still appears to be hopeful. But we shall stress the importance of the rule of law spirit," he said.

Director of administration Daniel Cheng Chung-wai said Hodge's appointment is not related to Spigelman's resignation and he is not a replacement for Spigelman.

Independent pro-establishment lawmaker Ho Kwan-yiu questioned why the commission did not recommend judges from Singapore, Malaysia, India or South Africa and pick Scottish-born Hodge instead. He said the government should not "put all eggs in one basket" by appointing only British judges.

Leung said as of October 5, Hodge said he was willing to take the position.

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