The Law Society of England and Wales has said it supports the decisions made by two top-ranking British judges to resign from Hong Kong’s highest court, after they claimed the city-state’s crackdown on free speech has made their positions untenable.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said the Law Society shared Lord Reed’s assessment that Hong Kong’s controversial national security laws have made his position increasingly untenable, after the president of the Supreme Court resigned from his role on the Hong Kong court.
In a statement, Boyce said: “Judicial independence is paramount and we respect this decision. It is a matter for the UK Supreme Court judges, as well as UK and foreign retired judges to make their own decisions about whether to continue sitting in the HKFCA.”
“Lord Reed referenced the adoption of the National Security Law in 2020 and that the position has been increasingly finely balanced ever since.”
“This is an assessment which we share, and we have previously expressed our own concerns on the adoption and implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.”
The comments come after the UK government said it would be permanently withdrawing British judges from Hong Kong’s final court of appeal.
The Law Society’s comments come after the president and deputy president of Britain’s Supreme Court today announced plans to stand down from their positions in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal.
Senior British judges have taken up positions on Hong Kong’s highest court since the transfer of the sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997.
Supreme Court president Lord Reed said the impacts of Hong Kong’s national security laws had made it untenable for him to continue in his position.
“I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression, to which the Justices of the Supreme Court are deeply committed,” Lord Reed said.
Supreme Court deputy president Lord Hodge also resigned from his position, having joined the Hong Kong court in 2020.
The resignations come after the Hong Kong government introduced its controversial national security laws two years ago, in response to the pro-democracy protests that swept the city-state in 2019-20.
Critics of the Beijing backed laws say they have allowed the Hong Kong administration to crack down on free speech and limit political freedoms.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “China has continued to use the National Security Law and its related institutions to undermine the fundamental rights and freedoms promised in the Joint Declaration.”
“As National Security Law cases proceed through the Courts, we are seeing the implications of this sweeping legislation, including the chilling effect on freedom of expression, the stifling of opposition voices, and the criminalising of dissent.”