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Another international judge quits Hong Kong's top court

Canadian-born Beverley McLachlin becomes third judge to resign within four days
Judges wearing robes and horsehair wigs attend a ceremony held to mark the opening of the legal year in Hong Kong on Jan 22, 2024.

Judges wearing robes and horsehair wigs attend a ceremony held to mark the opening of the legal year in Hong Kong on Jan 22, 2024. (Photo: AFP)


Published: June 11, 2024 08:00 AM GMT
Updated: June 11, 2024 09:18 AM GMT

A third international judge has quit the Hong Kong judiciary within four days amid warnings the predominantly Cantonese territory and former British colony is sliding into totalitarianism backed by a compliant press — led by the China Daily.

Canadian judge Beverley McLachlin announced in a letter, reported by the Canadian press, that she would stand down from the Court of Final Appeal once her term ends on July 29, so she can spend more time with her family.

She was the third judge to quit within four days. On June 7, resignation letters from former UK Supreme Court judges Jonathan Sumption and Lawrence Collins were accepted with “regret” by Chief Justice Andrew Cheung.

Collins later told a legal commentator that he resigned from the Court of Final Appeal due to the “political situation” in Hong Kong, widely seen as a veiled reference to the national security law which has triggered a Beijing-inspired crackdown on dissent since mid-2020.

Under the Basic Law, the territory’s mini-constitution initiated following the handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong is permitted to recruit judges from outside. Observers say it is a tradition seen as an “indicator of confidence” in the rule of law.

The territory remains the only common law jurisdiction in China.

On Monday, The Financial Times published an opinion piece from Sumption, 75, backing Collins, 83, and focusing on the difficulties faced by local judges when defending the law.

“An oppressive atmosphere is generated by the constant drumbeat from a compliant press, hardline lawmakers, government officers and the China Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government,” he wrote. “A chorus of outrage follows rare decisions to grant bail or acquit."

“There are continual calls for judicial ‘patriotism’. It requires unusual courage for local judges to swim against such a strong political tide. Unlike the overseas judges, they have nowhere else to go,” Sumption said.

“Intimidated or convinced by the darkening political mood, many judges have lost sight of their traditional role as defenders of the liberty of the subject, even when the law allows it.”

However, Hong Kong's chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu defended the national security law and the judiciary, and he accused Britain of attempting to interfere in Hong Kong's legal affairs.

“Some UK officials and politicians try to weaponize the UK's judicial influence to target China and HKSAR [Hong Kong],” he told reporters.

McLachlin noted that she had turned 80 and like the previous resignation letters added: "I continue to have confidence in the members of the court, their independence, and their determination to uphold the rule of law.”

Another two foreign judges, Australian justice James Spigelman and former British judge Brenda Hale resigned after the national security law was enacted almost four years ago.

Seven non-permanent overseas judges remain.

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