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British Judges stand down from Hong Kong Courts

6 June 2024 - Following an international campaign, Lord Lawrence Collins of Mapesbury and Lord Jonathan Sumption have resigned their positions from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

Seven foreign judges from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada remain on Hong Kong’s highest court. Another Australian judge will be sworn in later this year.

Lord Sumption and Lord Collins

In May, a report from the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, “Lending Prestige to Persecution: How Foreign Judges are Undermining Hong Kong’s Freedoms and Why they Should Quit” was launched in the British House of Commons, at an event hosted by Alistair Carmichael MP. The report states, “When judges are routinely sending Hong Kong teenagers to jail for exercising their freedom of expression, these judges must understand that their presence offers no positive impact for the people of Hong Kong. They only help to maintain the illusion of rule of law. The judges must resign.”

In 2022, all judges then serving in the UK stepped down from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. Former Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss and former Deputy Prime Minister, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab said that with the implementation of the National Security Law, it was no longer appropriate for the serving UK judges to continue sitting on the Hong Kong courts.

Lord Collins announced that he is standing down from the Court of Final Appeal due to the political situation in Hong Kong. However, he continues to assert that he has the “fullest confidence in the court and the total independence of its members.” Lord Sumption is yet to comment on his resignation.

In a new development, it was announced that Lord David Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who sits as the Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom and has recently released a book on “Freedom of Speech in International Law” will also sit on the appeal ruling of British citizen, Jimmy Lai, a newspaper owner currently on trial for publishing pro-democracy content. Lord Neuberger will also sit on the ruling to appeal the charge of unlawful assembly at the annual Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil of other pro-democracy activists, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Margaret Ng and Martin Lee.

Alyssa Fong from the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation said:

“I welcome the news that Collins and Sumption have stepped down. It is astonishing to me that it has taken four years since the imposition of the National Security Law for them to realise that this is the right action to be taking. I urge the remaining judges from the UK, Canada, and Australia to follow suit and immediately resign. Hong Kong is sadly no longer a rule-of-law-compliant city, and trials like that of Jimmy Lai expose the erosion of the legal system in Hong Kong. There should be no more attempts to justify why common law judges should sit on the Hong Kong Courts. They must put their commitment to justice and the rule of law over profit, and immediately step down.”

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