Top Hong Kong Judge Geoffrey Ma Defends Right to Rule on Security Law

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Top Hong Kong Judge Geoffrey Ma Defends Right to Rule on Security Law” – below is their description.

    Hong Kong’s retiring top judge Geoffrey Ma says an independent judiciary is key to maintaining the rule of law. Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said local courts have the power to reconcile a sweeping new national security law imposed by China last year with fundamental rights guaranteed in the Asian financial center.

    Ma said Tuesday that “rights can pull in different directions” and that the city’s courts have the final responsibility for resolving issues arising from the application of any law. Ma, who was speaking at a briefing to mark his last week as head of the Court of Final Appeal, cited references in the security law protecting freedom of the press, the freedom of association and other rights.

    “The national security law does contain specific references for the need to abide by the Basic Law and also the need to look and pay regard to fundamental rights,” Ma said. “All these legal questions may at times pull in different directions, may have to be resolved by the courts at some stage.”

    Foreign governments, scholars and lawyers have raised concerns that China’s imposition of the controversial security law law had eroded the judicial independence that underpinned Hong Kong’s success as a financial center. While Chinese officials have said the legislation was necessary to restore stability and prosperity after sometimes-violent protests in 2019, critics say it has eroded the city’s freedoms.

    The People’s Daily newspaper — the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party — criticized a lower court’s decision to release media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai on bail while he fights charges that he “colluded” with foreign forces to hurt China. Ma’s court sent Lai back to jail last week, while asserting the right to weigh in on a controversial provision of the security law limiting the right to bail during a hearing next month.

    Ma, who has served as chief justice since 2010, said he hasn’t personally felt pressure from officials either Hong Kong or Beijing to influence his rulings. “Do I get that pressure? My answer truthfully is, ‘No.’” he said.

    The outgoing chief justice expressed “full confidence” in Court of Final Appeal Permanent Judge Andrew Cheung, who assumes the top job on Monday. Cheung, who has a master’s degree in law from Harvard University, has ruled on several politically charged cases, including upholding the ouster of two pro-democracy lawmakers who altered their oaths to include insults of China.

    The security legislation, which bars terrorism, subversion, secession and foreign collusion, led to numerous countries, including the U.S., suspending extradition arrangements with Hong Kong. It allows Chief Executive Carrie Lam to pick judges to hear national security cases, and permits Beijing to prosecute particular cases in mainland courts, which are controlled by the Communist Party.

    In recent months, some Chinese officials and pro-Beijing newspapers have called for judicial reforms and stricter oversight of a justice system they say has been too lenient in prosecuting protesters who took part in the city’s historic unrest.

    Ma, in his remarks, said the judiciary welcomed calls for any specific reforms or improvements, but that criticisms could not be made just because people didn’t like the judgments in particular cases.

    Lam, Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, told a separate briefing Tuesday that criticism of judges in state media didn’t amount to Chinese government pressure on the judiciary. Her remark came in response to a question about recent criticism of decision judge who granted bail to Lai.

    “I really would not see how these comments would put pressure on the judiciary,” Lam said. “We condemn any such personal attacks on the judges, but if there are people who want to express their view based on their understanding of the law and the facts and the evidence, then this is what the media always advocates — this is the freedom of speech.”

    Ma said that Hong Kong’s judges remain impartial and that a respected legal system was still a cornerstone of the city’s success.

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    Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR), is a metropolitan area and special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China on the eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. With over 7.5 million residents of various nationalities in a 1,104-square-kilometre (426 sq mi) territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

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