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CJ defends independent judiciary in farewell speech

2021-01-06 HKT 23:04
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  • CJ defends independent judiciary in farewell speech
Outgoing Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma delivered a robust defence of the importance of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and stressed that human rights are a fundamental feature of the Basic Law, in a farewell sitting at the Court of Final Appeal on Wednesday marking the imminent end of his ten-year term as the city’s top judge.

With top mainland and Hong Kong officials present, along with prominent legal figures, Ma spoke of the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms to the rule of law.

“It is not just about being conducive to business and investment. Nor is it only about law and order. It also includes the recognition and enforcement of those rights we call human rights and fundamental freedoms (such as the freedom of assembly, of procession, of association and the freedom of the press), always of course recognising as well the importance of the respect for the rights and entitlements of others in the community.”

“The importance we place on rights and freedoms is a fundamental feature of the Basic Law,” he added.

Ma stressed that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution also mandates that the courts here must exercise its judicial power independently, free from any interference.

“So whenever there are discussions about the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the role and responsibilities of judges in relation to these fundamental features, the foundation for such discussions must be to refer to the Basic Law,” the top judge said.

“They are not in any way strange concepts that have been transplanted randomly to apply in Hong Kong: they are concepts required by, protected by and to be enforced under the very constitutional document that governs Hong Kong.”

Ma did not broach the topic of whether Hong Kong has a separation of powers – which has been dismissed by both local and mainland officials as a western concept that has never applied to the SAR.

But he did stress that the concept of judicial independence is “not related to politics” – but rather the responsibility of the courts to “adjudicate on the law and on legal disputes fairly, evenly and strictly in accordance with legal principle and the spirit of the law.”

Judge Ma went on to say that a key component of this is that all are equal before the law – including the executive authorities.

“To repeat a phrase that bears reminding at all times: no one is above the law, all are subject to it and everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.”

Ma added that he is proud of all local judges in that they have done their job fearlessly in the administration of justice, even in the face of criticism, no matter what the political, social, or economic situation has been.

“As we know, such criticisms can be trenchant, even to the point of being abusive on occasion, but in spite of this our judges have remained true to their calling. Sometimes, I think that courage is needed,” he said.

And he gave his full confidence to his successor Andrew Cheung, who will take over his role next week following Ma’s retirement.

“ I have every confidence in my successor Mr Justice Cheung and wish him much success in this important office… My only advice to him is always to be guided by your principles, for it is these principles that will see you and the community through all seasons.”

He also urged all other judges to stay true to their oaths and be true to the rule of law.

Ma declined to assess his own legacy, saying that will be for others to judge, but he said he has tried his best at all times “to adhere to my oath and to be guided by my principles. Nothing less would have done.”