Canada

Former Canadian chief justice says she’s staying on Hong Kong court to help preserve city’s ‘last bastion of democracy’

Beverley McLachlin said that she made a ‘principled decision’ to stay on after being assured by the court’s chief justice the judiciary would continue to be independent

Article content

Beverley McLachlin is strongly defending her decision to remain on Hong Kong’s highest court, saying that to quit now would only harm the city’s “last bastion” of democracy as Beijing clamps down on the city.

Advertisement

Article content

The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has come under criticism for renewing her appointment as one of 14 part-time foreign judges on the enclave’s Court of Final Appeal. Some legal experts and others argue she and her colleagues are lending their considerable esteem to an increasingly repressive legal system.

But McLachlin told the National Post in an interview that she made a “principled decision” to stay on after being assured by the court’s chief justice the judiciary would continue to be independent.

She said that means, for instance, that the chief justice would appoint judges to hear sensitive national security cases and not — as allowed by the city’s controversial new National Security Law — Hong Kong’s China-anointed head of government.

Advertisement

Article content

“I’ve given these thing a lot of thought. I tried to make my decision on the basis of principle,” said McLachlin.

“The court is perhaps the last democratic institution in Hong Kong that has not been challenged.… I do not wish to do anything that will weaken the last bastion perhaps of intact democracy in Hong Kong. And it’s as simple as that.”

McLachlin added, however, that she won’t hesitate to resign if what she considers the court’s current state of independence changes.

“If it’s challenged in any way that is inconsistent with my principles, then I’m gone, “ she said. “I’m sorry, I won’t be part of it.”

Advertisement

Article content

McLachlin is one of 14 top-flight judges from common-law jurisdictions like the U.K. and Australia who sit as “non-permanent” members of the final appeal court. The unique arrangement was set out in the Basic Law, the Hong Kong constitution agreed to by China and Britain when the city was handed over to Beijing in 1997. It was meant to replace the process under British rule that allowed rulings to be appealed to a higher court in London.

She was the first Canadian and one of the first two women to fill the role when appointed in 2018. Last month, she was re-appointed for another three-year term, and will hear her next slate of cases next January.

But since McLachlin first signed onto the court, Beijing has lowered the boom on Hong Kong and many of the freedoms that had set it apart from the mainland.

Advertisement

Article content

Most significantly, it imposed the national security law, which makes it a serious crime to undermine the authority of the state, collude with foreign countries or “elements” or promote Hong Kong’s independence.

More than 100 people, including protest organizers and opposition politicians, have been arrested under the legislation, as the number of independent, elected members of the city’s legislative council was also cut back. After the arrest of its owners and many of its editors, the fiercely independent Apple Daily newspaper said it had no choice but to shut down.

Baroness Brenda Hale of the U.K., appointed alongside McLachlin, decided not to serve for another term, though cited only personal reasons. An Australian judge on the court, James Spigelman, quit and raised concerns about the security law.

Advertisement

Article content

Critics say the Court of Final Appeal itself has been compromised, partly because the security law has essentially become part of Hong Kong’s constitution, overriding some liberties outlined in the Basic Law. And it allows Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Beijing-approved chief executive, to appoint judges to hear national security cases.

But McLachlin said Lam told Chief Justice Andrew Cheung that he alone will be assigning judges to the court’s cases, including those dealing with the security law.

Could the Canadian herself potentially hear a national security-related appeal? “I think that’s quite possible,” she said.

McLachlin also bristles at the notion that she and the other foreign judges are being used as window dressing for a system increasingly intolerant of political dissent.

Advertisement

Article content

“I don’t think we’re providing cover for anything,” she said. “I am a judge on the court. I am not a participant in the government in Hong Kong in any other way. That court is independent … and I believe for the benefit of the citizens of Hong Kong who seek justice, it should remain that way.”

McLachlin said there is a “great danger” that if the foreign judges were to leave, it would be taken as a sign that people could no longer rely on the court for impartial rulings.

“And that would be a negative sign and I believe a negative development for Hong Kong.”

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter:

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Checkout latest world news below links :
World News || Latest News || U.S. News

Source link

Back to top button
SoundCloud To Mp3