U.K. Supreme Court president Lord Robert Reed and his colleague Lord Patrick Hodge have resigned from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (HKCFA) over the threat to civil freedoms posed by the national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong.
The judges, the last two British judges serving on Hong Kong’s highest court, described their positions as having become “increasingly finely balanced”.
The judges of the U.K. Supreme Court, and its predecessor the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, have sat on the HKCFA since 1997, fulfilling obligations undertaken by the U.K. government towards Hong Kong following its handover agreement to China.
In a statement posted on the Supreme Court website, Reed said: “I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression, to which the Justices of the Supreme Court are deeply committed.”
“Lord Hodge and I have accordingly submitted our resignations as non-permanent judges of the HKCFA with immediate effect’, it concluded.
Four other judges from Australia and Canada also currently serve on the city’s top court.
Several industry practitioners outside of Hong Kong have raised concerns about the rule of law there since the introduction of the National Security Law (NSL), the legislation imposed by China in June 2020 that has curtailed protests and freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
Since the NSL was passed, Hong Kong’s national security police have arrested more than 100 Hong Kong residents, including pro-democracy protestors who have participated in the country’s demonstrations and marches since 2019.
Earlier in March, Paul Harris, the former Hong Kong Bar Association chairman, left Hong Kong for the U.K. 12 hours after meeting with Hong Kong national security authorities and local police, according to local reports.
A police source told the South China Morning Post that Harris had been called in to “assist with an investigation” and was asked to explain acts that had allegedly violated the National Security Law. He had previously said the NSL conflicted with certain rights guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
According to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce, 42% of expatriates in Hong Kong are considering leaving Hong Kong. That compares to 26% of the companies surveyed saying they are considering relocating.
Some lawyers have been handed jail terms for participating in anti-government protests in 2019.
Last week an American lawyer and former anti-bribery compliance director at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch has said he has been banned from Hong Kong after he was sentenced for assaulting a plainclothes police officer during the pro-democracy protests in 2019.