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Two British judges resign from Hong Kong’s top court

National security laws have caused grave concern over judicial independence in Hong Kong (AP)
National security laws have caused grave concern over judicial independence in Hong Kong (AP)

Two British judges have resigned from Hong Kong’s top court, the city’s judiciary said, deepening worries over the city’s rule of law under Beijing-imposed national security measures.

The judiciary said that Jonathan Sumption and Lawrence Collins, who both serve as non-permanent overseas judges of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, have tendered their resignations to the city leader. But it did not give further details about their decisions.

Judge Collins told The Associated Press that his resignation was “because of the political situation in Hong Kong”.

But he said he continues “to have the fullest confidence in the court and the total independence of its members”.

Judge Sumption said he would make a statement next week.

Hong Kong’s Chief Justice Andrew Cheung noted their decisions with regret in a statement, reiterating the judiciary’s commitment to upholding the rule of law and judicial independence in the city.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is a common law jurisdiction, unlike mainland China. After it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, non-permanent overseas judges have consistently served on the city’s top court.

Police officers stand in front of a prison bus
Last week, 14 pro-democracy activists were convicted in Hong Kong’s biggest national security case under a law imposed by Beijing that has all but wiped out public dissent (AP)

The pair’s resignations are an indicator of confidence in the city’s rule of law and judicial independence, especially after the enactment of the 2020 national security law that has all but wiped out public dissent.

Many pro-democracy activists have been arrested under the law, including some of the city’s best-known democracy advocates.

Last week, a Hong Kong court found 14 pro-democracy activists guilty of conspiring to commit subversion in what was the city’s biggest national security case to date.

They were among 47 activists who were accused of attempting to paralyse Hong Kong’s government and topple the city’s leader by securing the legislative majority necessary to indiscriminately veto budgets.

Critics said the convictions showed how the sweeping security law is being used against dissidents in the city. But Beijing and Hong Kong’s governments insisted the law helped bring back stability to the city following huge anti-government protests in 2019.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly insisted the city’s judicial independence is being protected.

In March, the Hong Kong government enacted a new, home-grown security law, raising more concerns over the city’s erosion of freedoms.

Hong Kong’s leader John Lee expressed regrets over the judges’ resignations in a statement. Mr Lee maintained the human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law have not changed, nor has the territory’s judicial independence.

The city’s bar association said it strongly believes that their departure would not affect the ability of the apex court in discharging its judicial functions, adding it has “every confidence” in the independence of the city’s judicial system.