The Chief Justice, Andrew Cheung, has condemned unfounded attacks on judges, saying an independent and impartial judiciary must be maintained in Hong Kong.
In his first speech delivered as the head of the judiciary to mark the opening of the legal year, Cheung said judges must not be subject to improper pressure or influence when discharging their duties.
He said it is inevitable that cases with political overtones will come under intense scrutiny in the media and online, and the decisions in these cases are “almost always subject to partisan criticisms”.
“Comments and criticisms, sometimes extreme and harsh ones, are unavoidable. Whilst the freedom of speech of everyone in society must be fully respected, there must not be any attempt to exert improper pressure on the judges in the discharge of their judicial functions,” he said.
“It has to be stressed that attempts to exert undue pressure on our judges by means such as threats of violence or doxxing are as futile as they are reprehensible.”
Cheung, who was sworn in on Monday, said there is a proper channel for people to express their dissatisfaction with court decisions.
“The appropriate way to question a decision is by means of appeal or review. Our appellate courts exist precisely for the purpose of correcting mistakes made in the lower courts, ironing out discrepancies in decisions and sentences among different first instance courts, and where appropriate, clarifying the law and laying down sentencing guidelines,” he said.
The new head of the judiciary also highlighted the importance of having "upright judges" to safeguard the territory's rule of law.
"It can only be fulfilled by judges who are upright; judges who are persons of integrity. It is worth repeating that judges must be impartial, free from bias or prejudice. Judges must be fearless and be prepared to make decisions in accordance with the law, regardless of whether the outcomes are popular or unpopular, or whether the outcomes would render themselves popular or unpopular," he said.
Cheung also reminded all judges to exercise self-restraint when dealing with high-profile cases, or cases with a political flavour.
“Judges must be particularly careful with their appearance of impartiality in terms of what they say in court or write in their judgments, or how they treat the parties, their lawyers or the witnesses. Any lapses in this regard, given the potentially polarising nature of these cases, could lead to suspicion of partiality, which is not conducive to maintaining public confidence in our judicial system.”
While he said there is already a well-established mechanism in place to ensure the accountability of judges, a review is underway to further boost the transparency of the complaint-handling system.