Ma defends right to be arbitrator

Local | Michael Shum 23 Apr 2021

Many retired judges become arbitrators, former chief justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li said yesterday in defending his decision to be an international arbitrator.

This came a month after he raised concerns over a "strange provision" in the national security law implemented in June that allows the chief executive to appoint judges to handle national security cases.

Ma, 65, who retired in January, was responding to The Standard following news he would become an arbitrator in Singapore, the United Kingdom and here.

His decision has raised eyebrows, as people in legal circles expressed concern over the potential for conflicts of interests.

Ma said he could not comment on what has been said without knowing details, and that it would be inappropriate to comment.

"Incidentally, many retired judges become arbitrators," he said. "Temple Chambers was where I practiced before becoming a judge. I hope to rejoin them, but I would prefer everyone wait for a formal announcement." Ma's move came to light Wednesday with confirmation he will serve as an international arbitrator, while saying that he is trying to "keep up with the law."

It is understood he will be a door tenant at Temple Chambers in Hong Kong, where he was head of chambers prior to his judicial appointment in 2000.

On the chief executive being allowed to appoint national security judges, he said the theory behind the provision is presumably for the executive branch to ensure the right judge handles cases considered highly important to security. But he added that this could be left to the judiciary itself.

"Of course, the judges are to be designated from the existing pool," he said. "So that is, I suppose, an important protective measure to ensure that justice is done or seen to be done."

But he said many regard this provision as "mighty odd." He added: "Because that is part of the independence of the judiciary, to decide for itself which judges will hear a case and not have somebody else whose angle or particular context may well be political or other interested aspect of it.

Meanwhile, Ma's wife, court of appeal judge Maria Yuen Ka-ning, 68, has yet to get the nod after she was nominated to be a permanent court of final appeal judge last year.

Senior counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah brushed off claims that Ma's decision to serve as an international arbitrator will affect his wife's promotion, as they are "two completely different matters."



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