Top U.K. judges resign, incumbent Chief Executive bows out . . .
On Wednesday, the President and Deputy President of the U.K. Supreme Court resigned from their positions as overseas non-permanent judges on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, citing the 2020 National Security Law (NSL) and the Hong Kong government’s “depart[ure] from values of political freedom.” Their resignation was followed by the U.K.’s bi-annual report on Hong Kong, which found that independent media and civil society had been “all but extinguished” in the city. Yesterday, Chief Executive (CE) Carrie Lam announced plans to retire after her term ends in June.
Rumoured contender for Chief Executive portends more rule by iron fist . . .
Reports suggest John Lee, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary for Administration and former Security Chief during the 2019 anti-government protests, is emerging as a possible favourite to succeed Carrie Lam. Since being named the second-most senior Hong Kong official last year, Lee has focused almost exclusively on national security affairs. However, his reputation for ruthlessness and intense loyalty to Beijing during his handling of the 2019 protests will make him extremely divisive among the public. If Beijing supports his yet-unannounced candidacy in May's upcoming closed CE selection process, it will signal even more hardline governance for Hong Kong’s foreseeable future.
Resignations may accelerate foreign, local exodus . . .
The resignation of the two judges will have little real effect on Hong Kong’s judicial system. Under the NSL, the Chief Executive handpicks which judges can hear sensitive national security cases. No foreign judges have ever been selected under this process. Nine other foreign judges, including retired British judges and former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, will continue to sit on the bench. But Beijing and Hong Kong’s strong protests against the resignations indicate the reputational value foreign judges have had for Hong Kong’s judiciary and its ‘world city’ status. Amid a rapid ‘brain drain’ and recent surveys suggesting nearly half of foreign businesses intend to pack their bags within the year, the loss of the U.K. Supreme Court’s vote of confidence in the city could further hasten Hong Kong’s fall from grace in the eyes of businesses, ex-pats, and many local residents.
- Al Jazeera: Hong Kong faces brain drain as talent flees ‘zero COVID’ controls
- The Conversation: British judges leaving top court is a strong condemnation of the end of civil liberties
- South China Morning Post: ‘It’s time to go home,’ Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says as she reveals current term will be her last