Hong Kong pro-Beijing legislators intervene in judicial appointment

Pro-Beijing lawmakers have actually effectively stepped in for the very first time in a senior judicial visit in Hong Kong, in what attorneys stated was the most recent attack on the city’s valued independent legal system.

Justice Maria Yuen, the better half of Geoffrey Ma, the city’s previous chief justice, was set to be selected as the next irreversible judge on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, 2 individuals familiar with the occasions informed the Financial Times.

However she withdrew her candidateship for the city’s leading court after lawmakers raised issues over the visit, individuals stated. The legislators argued that Yuen may be affected by her partner, who pro-Beijing groups criticised in the past after he safeguarded the neutrality of Hong Kong’s judiciary, according to an individual with understanding of their thinking.

Beijing has actually punished Hong Kong’s civil and political organizations in reaction to anti-government demonstrations in 2019, detaining pro-democracy activists, political leaders and media figures.

Cops on Wednesday apprehended an editorial page author for Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid paper which has actually come under duplicated attack for its criticism of the federal government. The paper is on the brink of closing after its possession were frozen by the federal government recently.

Cops stated on Wednesday a 55-year-old male, who Apple Daily stated passes the pen name of Li Ping, was apprehended on suspicion of conspiring to conspire with foreign forces to threaten nationwide security.

China has yet to make considerable modifications to Hong Kong’s typical law legal system. However any such relocation would worry worldwide business, much of which have actually established local head office in the city in part since of its independent judiciary.

Yuen’s appointment was recommended last year by the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission, a semi-independent body that considers judicial positions in Hong Kong, and was expected to be approved by Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, the two people familiar with the events said.

Hong Kong’s de facto parliament, the Legislative Council, is required to confirm the chief’s executive’s nominees for top judicial positions. In the past, this step has been seen as a formality.

But before Yuen’s recommendation was finalised and formally sent to the legislature for confirmation, pro-Beijing lawmakers including Holden Chow and Elizabeth Quat raised concerns.

The legislature’s panel on administration of justice and legal services, which is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers, asked the judiciary and government officials for discussions on the appointment.

Aside from their objection that Ma might continue to have actually an influence on the court through Yuen, the legislators also said that she took a long time to hand down judgments, according to a person with knowledge of their thinking.

The politician’s inquiries led to Yuen withdrawing her nomination, according to two people with knowledge of the events, the first known case of its kind. Yuen directed all requests for comment on the incident to the judiciary, which declined to elaborate.

The commission subsequently selected another judge, Johnson Lam, who is set to be appointed.

Geoffrey Ma, the former chief justice of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal
Geoffrey Ma, the former chief justice of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal and husband of Maria Yuen © EPA-EFE

Insiders said Lam was not seen as more conservative or liberal in his judgments than Yuen, nor was there evidence that lawmakers had acted on Beijing’s orders in Yuen’s case.

But senior legal figures were concerned the Yuen case could set a precedent for the Legislative Council, which is dominated by pro-Beijing politicians, to formally review judicial appointments. This in turn could undermine the authority of the JORC, the judicial visit committee.

One senior legal figure said political review of appointments could lead to judges being chosen based on their loyalty to Beijing rather than their abilities, and could deter the best candidates from coming forward.

Johannes Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong, said the Yuen affair was a “very bad and worrying development for judicial independence”.

“It does provide a channel for political interference with the appointment of key judicial personnel by a [legislature] that is dominated by pro-Beijing politicians,” Chan said.

Critics said the government’s decision in 2015 to appoint separate judges for cases involving the national security law, which was introduced in the territory by Beijing last year in the wake of the protests, had already hurt perceptions of judicial independence.

The trial of Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under the security law, is set to begin on Wednesday in front of these judges. 

Legislators Chow and Quat declined to comment on the Yuen case. Carrie Lam declined to comment but stated: “all appointments of judicial officers by the chief executive are made in accordance with the Basic Law”, the territory’s mini-constitution.

Geoffrey Ma declined to comment.

The chair of the legislature’s panel on administration of justice and legal services, Horace Cheung, said he had contacted the federal government and the judiciary to “obtain preliminary views . . . on matters raised by members” of his panel on the election process.

Video: How the nationwide security law is altering Hong Kong

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.