British judges in Hong Kong leave to protest security law

Two British judges give up their seat on the Supreme Court there in protest against the tightened security law in Hong Kong. They say they do not want their presence to be used to legitimize undemocratic measures.

The metropolis’ highest court has 14 members: four from Hong Kong itself, the rest from other parts of the Commonwealth. This setup was agreed upon when the former British Crown Colony was returned to China in 1997. This was to guarantee that the rule of law would continue to exist under Chinese rule.

Supreme judge Robert Reed and his second husband Patrick Hodge believe the tightened security law introduced after protests in 2020 undermines guarantees. Beijing, critics say, has used the law to block opposition in Hong Kong: many dissidents have been imprisoned or fled, civil rights groups have been shut down and the press has been curbed.

“I don’t want to give the impression that I support a government that erodes political freedoms and freedom of expression,” Reed said in a statement. He and Hodge resigned with immediate effect yesterday.

Tipping point

The British Foreign Secretary supports the judges. “Freedom and democracy have been systematically dismantled in Hong Kong. Since this law was introduced, authorities have restricted freedom of expression, the free press and the right to assembly.”

“We have reached a tipping point. If the British judges stay on now, we are legitimizing repression.”

Four other overseas Supreme Court judges, from Canada and Australia, remain in office. One of them says Hong Kong’s judiciary remains independent and “perhaps the last bastion of democracy” in Hong Kong. The other judges of the court, all British, have not yet commented on the departure of their colleagues.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, says the judges have been politically pressured and speaks of political manipulation. She also says she regrets Reed and Hodge’s decision.

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