Hong Kong has been in a state of political crisis after months of antigovernment protests in 2019 led to Beijing imposing a national security law on the city to quash dissent. Pro-democracy supporters have decried the security legislation as authorities suppressing the freedoms Hong Kong was promised when it was handed over from British control in 1997.
Last week, 55 pro-democracy activists were arrested in a sweeping police operation, and prominent pro-democracy activists such as Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and outspoken media tycoon Jimmy Lai are currently in jail for their activism.
Hong Kong Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, who was sworn in on Monday, said that judges in the city’s courts must be careful with the appearance of impartiality in terms of what they say in court or what they write in their judgments, especially in cases with a political nature.
“Any lapses in this regard, given the potentially polarizing nature of these cases, could lead to suspicion of partiality, which is not conducive to maintaining public confidence in our judicial system,” Cheung said in his first speech delivered as chief justice.
He said that it is equally crucial to the public and business community that there is confidence in the judicial system. Cheung also said that it is important to the international reputation of Hong Kong that the city is governed by the rule of law under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework that allows Hong Kong freedoms not found in mainland China.
Cheung also condemned threats of violence and doxxing attacks on judges, describing them as futile and reprehensible.
“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.
Cheung said that while there is a system in place to ensure the accountability of judges in Hong Kong, “there is room for further enhancement of the transparency and accountability” of the complaint-handling mechanism.