‘No longer tenable’ for UK judges to sit on Hong Kong’s top court, Foreign Office says

‘We have seen a systematic erosion of liberty and democracy in Hong Kong,’ Liz Truss says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 30 March 2022 10:48
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The Foreign Office has said it is “no longer tenable” for UK judges to sit on Hong Kong’s top court due to the impact on human rights of the national security law imposed by Beijing.

The department added the legislation – imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 – was having a “chilling effect”, with China using the legislation to undermine “fundamental rights and freedoms”.

It comes after the UK Supreme Court said its justices cannot continue to serve on the court of final appeal without appearing to endorse a regime “which has departed from the values of political freedom, and freedom of expression”.

The decision — to withdraw serving judges from the Hong Kong court — was taken following discussions between the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, the justice secretary Dominic Raab, and the Supreme Court president, Lord Reed.

Lord Reed and deputy president Lord Hodge have both now quit as non-permanent judges at the Hong Kong court of final appeal where UK judges have continued to sit since the territory was handed back to China in 1997.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ms Truss said: “We have seen a systematic erosion of liberty and democracy in Hong Kong.

“Since the national security law was imposed, authorities have cracked down on free speech, the free press and free association.

“The situation has reached a tipping point where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s leading court, and would risk legitimising oppression.

“I welcome and wholeheartedly support the decision to withdraw British judges from the court.”

Mr Raab, the deputy prime minister, added that since the introduction of Beijing’s national security law in 2020, the government’s assessment of the situation in Hong is “that it has shifted too far from the freedoms we hold dear — making free expression and honest critique of the state a criminal offence”.

He added: “This flies in the face of the handover agreement we have had with China since 1997 and, having discussed at length with foreign secretary and the president of the Supreme Court, we regretfully agree that it is no longer appropriate for serving UK judges to continue sitting in Hong Kong courts.”

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