Putting Hong Kong judges and judicial officials to the patriotism test could compromise their independence and undermine their ability to uphold the public interest, a top academic said Friday.
Johannes Chan, dean of the faculty of law of the University of Hong Kong, was commenting on a white paper released Tuesday by the State Council which says judges are administrators and therefore subject to patriotic standards.
This provision in the unprecedented document on China’s Hong Kong policy, was pointed out earlier by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen.
It says patriotism is a basic political requirement for all government administrators.
Chan, who was Yuen’s law professor, said the latter should fully explain the provision or risk jeopardizing Hong Kong’s judicial independence, Apple Daily reported Friday.
“Company directors have a responsibility to protect minority shareholders, but it doesn’t mean they have to love the company,” Chan said.
Mainland officials are not familiar with the Hong Kong justice system and wrote the white paper according to their own system, he was quoted as saying.
Chan said the justice secretary is more than a government official. He has a responsibility to defend the public interest when the justice system is challenged.
He warned that Hong Kong’s judicial independence has been under pressure in recent years but Hong Kong people are not going to be intimidated by the white paper, especially at this stage of their democratic transition.
On Thursday, Yuen said the white paper in fact reaffirms Hong Kong’s judicial independence and that the central government has no plans to intervene.
The justice officials referred to in the document are different from those he mentioned in a 2008 speech regarding Hong Kong’s governance team, Yuen said.
Meanwhile, former justice secretary Elsie Leung said Hong Kong people have a narrow understanding of the “one country, two systems” principle under which they enjoy a high degree of autonomy.
She said the white paper, which spells out the principle, is not a legal document but a political request.
The Hong Kong Bar Association has challenged the white paper, saying the duties and responsibilities of the judicial branch should not be mixed with those of the administrative and legislative departments.
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