Rule of law still alive: Bar chief

Local | Michael Shum 21 Jan 2021

Outgoing Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes says the national security law has diluted judicial independence in Hong Kong.

However, he still believes the rule of law in Hong Kong is not dead yet.

Dykes, 67, will be stepping down as chairman tonight after occupying the position for three years since 2018, under the rules and regulations of the association.

It is understood that veteran barrister Paul Harris, 68, known for his practice in public law, will replace Dykes as chairman, while vice chairwoman Anita Yip Hau-ki, 57, will be reelected. Bar council member Erik Shum Sze-man will be the other vice chairman.

In his outgoing interview, Dykes said the national security law has diluted judicial independence but the rule of law in the SAR is still alive.

"The rule of law is not dead. I won't even say it is in a critical state, but its health needs careful monitoring," Dykes said.

"We have a substantially independent judiciary. I personally think it is diluted where the national security law gives the power to the chief executive to appoint judges."

Dykes also said technically speaking, he has every confidence judges will put their best effort in interpreting the security law with common law principles, but admitted that he has no idea what the outcome will be.

"We no longer have a totally independent judiciary, as the judges are designated by the chief executive and there's a presumption against bail, rather than for bail," he said.

He was also surprised to see the national security law used to arrest activists or politicians who only took part in peaceful demonstrations.

"The chief executive assured that the national security law is for a very, very tiny amount of people - dangerous troublemakers. I am surprised to see it apparently being used to catch people who are not involved in any kind of violence. Why were these arrests being made?" Dykes said.

During his three years in office, the Bar has issued nearly 50 statements, with 20 of them released in the past year - the highest in 10 years. Five out of the 20 were about the national security law.

However, Dykes brushed off claims that this had made the legal body political.

"It's just that we have legal issues coming at us in political forms, and the Bar Association has reserved its statements only for appropriate occasions and in appropriate terms," he said.

Dykes also said after the security law was implemented in Hong Kong through promulgation, the atmosphere in society has been intensified.

"We can see stability is restored, and the streets are once again peaceful. But if the peacefulness comes with the consequence that will see all political expression banned, this is just the peace of the graveyard, which is not something we want to see," he said.

Looking back, Dykes said: "I have not had time for regrets. This has been an astonishing three years; it's a bit like banging your head against the wall, it's nice when it stops. I hope I did not let my members down."

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