Canada’s top judge steps down from Hong Kong’s Supreme Court after another resignation


LONDON (AP) — A former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is stepping down from the Hong Kong Supreme Court, city officials said Monday, following the dismissal of a string of other foreign judges from the court amid concerns about Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

Beverly McLachlin would end her term as a non-permanent foreign judge at the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s judiciary confirmed. Officials did not provide details.

Canadian media reported that McLachlin noted in her statement that she has reached the age of 80 and will retire when her term ends in July. She said she planned to spend more time with her family and that she still has confidence in the members of the court and their independence, the reports said.

Also on Monday a British judge who resigned of the same court said last week that he resigned because the rule of law in the city is in “great danger” and judges operate in an “impossible political environment created by China.”

Jonathan Sumption, who had served as a non-permanent foreign judge on the Hong Kong High Court, described in an article that growing “paranoia of the authorities” and judges intimidated by a “darkening political mood” in the Asian financial center. The Financial Times reported this on Monday.

“Hong Kong, once a vibrant and politically diverse community, is slowly becoming a totalitarian state. The rule of law is being profoundly compromised in every area where the government has strong views,” he wrote. “The slightest sign of dissent is treated as a call for revolution.”

He wrote that he remained in court in the hope that the presence of foreign judges would help preserve the rule of law, but “I fear this is no longer realistic.”

McLachlin and Sumption were the latest of a number of foreign judges to leave Hong Kong’s highest court in recent years.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is a common law jurisdiction, unlike mainland China. After the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997, non-permanent foreign judges have consistently served on the supreme court. In 2019, there were fifteen such judges. After McLachlin’s departure next month, there will be about seven left.

The city council expressed its strong disagreement with Sumption’s comments in a long statement on Tuesday. It stressed that the city’s courts are not under any political pressure from Chinese authorities or local government when hearing cases, and said the rule of law in the financial center has not declined.

“Anyone who suggested otherwise, whatever the reasons or motives, would be completely wrong, completely unfounded and must be fairly refuted,” the report said.

In 2022, another British judge, Robert Reed, resigned, saying the government “has deviated from the values ​​of political freedom and freedom of expression.”

Another judge, Lawrence Collins, resigned last week, telling The Associated Press that his departure was “because of the political situation in Hong Kong. But he said he still has “full confidence in the court and the total independence of its members.”

Rights groups and critics say Chinese authorities’ introduction of a 2020 national security law has eroded Hong Kong’s judicial independence and all but wiped out public dissent. Many pro-democracy activists have been arrested under the law.

In May a court in Hong Kong has found fourteen pro-democracy activists guilty of conspiracy to commit subversion in the city’s largest national security case to date. They were among 47 activists accused of attempting to paralyze Hong Kong’s government and overthrow the city’s leader by gaining the legislative majority needed to indiscriminately veto budgets.

The Beijing and Hong Kong governments have insisted the law helped restore stability after massive anti-government protests in 2019.

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