U.K. Judges May Quit Hong Kong in Wake of National Security Law

The U.K.’s most senior judge warned that British judges would quit their roles in Hong Kong if the national security law threatened the independence of the courts.

Justice Robert Reed, the president of the Supreme Court, said it supports Hong Kong judges “in their commitment to safeguard judicial independence and the rule of law.” The Supreme Court will “continue to assess the situation,” the judge said in a statement Friday.

“The new security law contains a number of provisions which give rise to concerns,” Reed said in an unprecedented intervention on the situation in Hong Kong. “Its effect will depend upon how it is applied in practice.”

The legislation, which has been denounced by democracy activists, has abruptly imposed far-reaching changes on the financial hub’s common law system. It gives Hong Kong’s chief executive the power to appoint judges to handle criminal cases brought under the law while the Beijing government will also have jurisdiction over “complex” cases relating to foreign influence or other “serious circumstances.”

Ever since the handover in 1997, the U.K. has provided two sitting judges to hear cases at Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. Justice Brenda Hale, the former president of the Supreme Court, was due to sit in Hong Kong earlier this year, before the pandemic curtailed travel.

Hong Kong Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma affirmed in a statement after the law’s passage that judicial independence and the rule of law were “cornerstones of the Hong Kong community.” “It remains the mission and the constitutional duty of the Hong Kong judiciary to maintain and protect them,” Ma said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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