Two British judges quit Hong Kong’s top court

By Thomson Reuters Jun 6, 2024 | 12:12 PM

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two British judges on Thursday resigned from Hong Kong’s top court, around one week after a landmark verdict in which 14 prominent democratic activists were convicted for subversion amid a national security crackdown on dissent in the financial hub.

The Hong Kong Judiciary said in a statement that two prominent British judges, Lawrence Collins and Jonathan Sumption, had “tendered their respective resignations” from the city’s Court of Final Appeal (CFA) where they had been serving as non-permanent judges.

“I have resigned from the Court of Final Appeal because of the political situation in Hong Kong, but I continue to have the fullest confidence in the court and the total independence of its members,” Collins is quoted telling the Financial Times.

Sumption confirmed to Reuters he had resigned and said he would make a statement next week. Collins gave no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment.

The resignations add to the number of British jurists who have severed their ties to Hong Kong’s highest court amid a years-long crackdown on dissent under a China-imposed national security law in 2020 following mass pro-democracy protests.

Robert Reed, who resigned from the CFA in 2022, said at the time he couldn’t continue to “sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom and freedom of expression.”

Britain, which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, has said the security law that punishes offences like subversion with up to life imprisonment has been used to curb dissent and freedoms.

Many of the city’s democratic campaigners have been arrested, detained or forced into exile, civil society groups have been shuttered and liberal media outlets forced to close.

Last week, 14 pro-democracy activists were found guilty and two were acquitted in a landmark subversion trial that critics say further undermined the city’s rule of law and its reputation as a global financial hub.

The verdicts in Hong Kong’s biggest trial against the democratic opposition came more than three years after police arrested 47 democrats in dawn raids at homes across the city. They were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a national security law imposed by China.

Chinese and Hong Kong authorities say the law is necessary and has brought stability.

The presence of foreign judges in Hong Kong is enshrined in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that guarantees the global financial hub’s freedoms and extensive autonomy under Chinese rule, including the continuation of Hong Kong’s common law traditions forged during the colonial era.

There are still several British judges sitting as non-permanent overseas judges in the CFA including David Neuberger, and Nick Phillips, as well as those from other common law jurisdictions including Australia.

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Editing by Rod Nickel)