Since Hong Kong’s national security law came into effect, there has been grave concern among Hongkongers over their freedoms and rule of law of the city. The Stand News earlier asked more than 10 overseas non-permanent judges of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal (CFA) to gather their views about the new national security law. Questions asked involve issues with the four categories of offences under the national security law, whether passing and implementation of the national security law would affect their confidence in Hong Kong’s judicial system and judicial independence, and whether the national security law would affect their willingness to continue to assume their role at the CFA.
Among all the overseas non-permanent judges interviewed, Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffmann, who has so far served as an overseas non-permanent judge of the CFA for the longest period, believes all non-permanent judges "would like first to have the opportunity for discussion with each other and [their] colleagues in Hong Kong, saying those questions directed to the overseas non-permanent judges “at some stage will need answering".
Two weeks ago, the Stand News submitted written questions to over 10 overseas non-permanent judges of the CFA, the final appellate court of the city. Certain questions aim to solicit their comments on allegations that the national security law is inconsistent with common law principles that are inherent in Hong Kong’s legal system, four categories of offences under the law, namely secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security, are too broadly and vaguely defined, and some provisions show lack of basic safeguards of legal certainty and fair treatment.
Other questions are on whether passing and implementation of the law would affect the overseas non-permanent judges’ views and confidence in the judicial system and judicial independence of the city, whether the new law would affect their willingness to continue to serve as a non-permanent judge, and whether they would accept the invitation if they were invited to be one of the judges sitting on a panel to hear a appeal case in relation to the national security law.
In his reply to the Stand News, Hoffmann did not directly respond to the questions one by one. Rather, he said those questions “are all questions which at some stage will need answering, but some, which relate to decisions which may have to be made by the CFA.”
“I could not properly answer while a member of that court, and the others are matters on which I think all [non-permanent judges] would like first to have the opportunity for discussion with each other and our colleagues in Hong Kong,” Hoffmann said in the reply.
Hoffmann had heard cases in the CFA in recent years that drew public attention. One is the appeal case of storming the protest area known as Civic Square outside the government headquarters by young activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, respectively secretary general and chairman of the now-disbanded Demosistō, as well as Alex Chow Yong-kang, former secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. Another notable case involves a transsexual person who fought for the right to marry.
Hoffmann, born in 1934, became a non-permanent judge of the CFA in 1998, with his term of office later extended. He was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star in 2014.
Hoffmann was called to the English Bar at Gray's Inn in 1964 and appointed Queen's Counsel in 1977. He served as a Judge of UK’s High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, from 1985 to 1992. He then was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1992 and Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1995.
Another CFA’s overseas non-permanent judge Lord Robert Reed, president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, last Friday (17/7) sent a reply to the Stand News while issuing a statement through the press office of UK’s Supreme Court.
The new national security law “contains a number of provisions which give rise to concerns,” Reed said in the statement. “[The Supreme Court] will continue to assess the position in Hong Kong as it develops, in discussion with the [British government].”
“Whether judges of the Supreme Court can continue to serve as judges in Hong Kong will depend on whether such service remains compatible with judicial independence and the rule of law,” the statement read.
Among the replies the Stand News received, some judges said they declined to comment, whereas some had still not yet returned their responses.
Judges of the CFA currently comprise the chief justice, three permanent judges, and Hong Kong non-permanent judges and overseas non-permanent judges. There are four Hong Kong non-permanent judges in a panel, whereas the other panel consists of 14 overseas non-permanent judges from other common law jurisdictions. Among those overseas non-permanent judges, nine are from the UK, with four from Australia and one from Canada.