23 April 2019
Hong Kong's independent judicial system has served to maintain the city's autonomy and insulate our courts of law from political interference. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong's independent judicial system has served to maintain the city's autonomy and insulate our courts of law from political interference. Photo: HKEJ

Why Hong Kong’s judicial independence is under attack

Hong Kong’s judicial independence, one of the core values that have made us a vibrant, progressive city, is under attack.

Since the 1997 handover, it has served to uphold the “one country, two systems” principle, maintain the city’s autonomy, and insulate our courts of law from political interference.

But there are those who think of it as an obstacle to the Communist Party’s direct rule over the territory. That is why some quarters in our society seek to vilify, demonize and ultimately ruin this most cherished of our values.

Against such a backdrop, the Justice Department on Monday issued a statement defending our city’s independent judicial system.

It said: “Judicial independence is of fundamental importance to Hong Kong. Judges only decide cases according to the relevant evidence and the applicable law.”

The statement came only a few days after a member of the Legislative Council assailed the courts for releasing “suspects” in the 79-day Occupy campaign and anti-mainland protests, and after Beijing loyalists condemned the judge who ordered their release as a “dog-judge”.

The Justice Department stressed that such vitriol thrown at courts and judges is unwarranted. 

“Appropriate discussion or even criticism of judicial decisions is one thing, abusive attacks and unwarranted conduct which would undermine the independence of the judiciary and public confidence in the administration of justice are totally different,” it said.

Let us look back at some of those attacks against the judiciary.

– During a March 15 protest organized by a group calling itself Caring Hong Kong Power, protesters yelled slogans including “The police arrest, the courts release”. Legislator Elizabeth Quat of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong used the same slogan in her speech at Legco on March 26.

– In an interview with Apple Daily published on March 25, Patrick Ko of the Voice of Loving Hong Kong complained of the leniency that judges exhibited in dealing with the protesters. “The police worked hard to arrest these people, but when they get to court these dog-judges rule in such a way. It’s so upsetting,” he said.

– In a recent protest held by Clean Hong Kong, a pro-Beijing group, the participants used these slogans: “Abolish the judiciary’s independent immunity, hit out at the judiciary’s malpractice!” “The police arrests and the judges release: murder of the rule of law!” “Fake wig judges do not follow laws, guilty hooligans [a term that sounds like "pan-democrats" in Cantonese] become daring and fearless!” and “I want real judges, not fake wig judges!”

As could be easily discerned, the pro-Beijing loyalists were using almost the same slogans to attack the courts and the judges. 

It is also clear that these people want the Communist Party to exercise its authority over the territory, on top of the city’s well-established structure of administration, legislation and judiciary.

They believe that the courts are mere instruments to facilitate the implementation of Beijing’s policies, not vital institutions to maintain social justice and protect the rights of all people, including the “suspects”.

Still, all Hong Kong people are entitled to enjoy their freedom of expression, whether they are pro-democracy or pro-Beijing. They can speak out their mind with no fear in their hearts.

However, the rule of law must prevail, and the pro-Beijing camp, by virulently attacking the courts and judges, are undermining public trust in the city’s independent judicial system.

While some quarters believe that the Beijing loyalists are merely giving voice to their genuine sentiments, the Progressive Lawyer Group assert that “such comments against the judiciary do not contain any reasoned analysis, nor backed by any evidence”.

In fact, their baseless condemnation of the courts and judges is a clear attempt to undermine society’s confidence in the judicial process in Hong Kong, which has always upheld the rule of law.

Chinese officials have stressed the need for a renewed enlightenment of Hong Kong people’s understanding of the “one country, two systems” principle, with the goal of deepening their recognition of our one country and the sovereignty of the central government.

The city’s independent judiciary system should be a focus of that exercise. And in that review, our officials should decide whether our judicial system should vigorously maintain its independence or embrace Beijing’s framework and supremacy.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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