UK mulls HK judge pullout

Local | Michael Shum and Reuters 25 Nov 2020

The Hong Kong government hit back at what it called "sweeping attacks and groundless accusations" by Britain after a UK report said it is considering pulling its judges out of the SAR's highest court.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote in the foreword of the latest biannual report published on Hong Kong that he began consultations with the president of the UK's Supreme Court on whether to pull British judges out of Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal.

"I have begun consultation with Lord [Robert] Reed, president of the UK Supreme Court, concerning when to review whether it continues to be appropriate for British judges to sit as non-permanent judges on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal," Raab wrote.

"This has been, and continues to be, the most concerning period in Hong Kong's post-handover history," he added.

There are currently 13 overseas non-permanent judges serving out of the 17 non-permanent judges in Hong Kong's top court.

Nine of them are British and their presence is enshrined in the Basic Law.

In the same report, Britain said China breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration twice in the first six months of this year, with the legislation of the national security law and the disqualification of four pro-democracy lawmakers.

It said the disqualification is "retribution" by the territory's executive against political opposition and silencing of dissent.

Early yesterday, the Hong Kong government hit back at the report's claims, saying they were "irresponsible remarks" in a 1,060-word statement.

The government said the UK is applying double standards in its criticism of Hong Kong.

"The UK government postponed the local elections in England due to take place on May 7 for a year as a result of the then coronavirus outbreak," it wrote.

Regarding the disqualification of lawmakers, the government also said the report ignored the fact that people in public office are required to uphold the oath they made in swearing allegiance to the SAR.

It also pointed out that in the UK, Members of Parliament who refuse to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown cannot assume office.

"The disqualification done in accordance with the law has nothing to do with the right to freedom of speech or the democratic process," it said.

The Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Commissioner in Hong Kong also expressed "firm opposition against the report."

"[The report] showed a total disregard for the fact that Hong Kong returned to China long ago, vilified the Chinese central government's Hong Kong policy, openly interfered in Hong Kong and China's internal affairs at large and trashed basic norms governing international relations," a spokesman for the office said.

"We urge the British side to wake up from its colonial nostalgia and stop any interference in Hong Kong affairs," he said.

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