Pro-Beijing lawmakers have succeeded for the first time in the appointment of a high-ranking judiciary in Hong Kong, in what lawyers have described as the latest attack on the city’s cherished independent legal system.
Judge Maria Yuen, wife of former city court chief Jeffrey Ma, is set to be appointed as the next permanent judge in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, two people familiar with the events told the Financial Times.
But people said she withdrew her nomination to the city’s Supreme Court after lawmakers raised concerns about the appointment. Lawmakers have argued that Yuen may be influenced by her husband, who has been criticized by pro-Beijing elements in the past after he defended the neutrality of Hong Kong’s judiciary, according to a person familiar with their thinking.
This step came Beijing has taken strict measures On Hong Kong’s civil and political institutions in response to anti-government protests in 2019, and the arrests of pro-democracy activists, politicians and media figures.
China has yet to make major changes to the common law legal system in Hong Kong. But any such move will do Related to international companies, many of which set up regional headquarters in the city in part due to the independence of the judiciary.
Yuen’s appointment was recommended last year by the Judicial Officers’ Recommendations Committee, a quasi-independent body that looks into judicial positions in Hong Kong, and was expected to be approved by Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, the two people familiar with the events said.
Hong Kong’s de facto parliament, the legislature, is required to confirm chief executive candidates for senior judicial positions. In the past, this move was seen as a formality.
But before Yuen’s recommendation was finalized and formally sent to the legislature for approval, pro-Beijing lawmakers, including Holden Chao and Elizabeth Coates, raised concerns.
The legislature’s Committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Services, which is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers, has asked the judiciary and government officials to hold discussions about the appointment.
Aside from their objection that what might continue to affect the court through Yuen, lawmakers also said it took too long to pass judgment, according to a person familiar with their thinking.
Political inquiries led Yuen to withdraw her candidacy, according to two people familiar with the events, the first known case of its kind. Yuen directed all requests for comment on the incident to the judiciary, who declined to go into further details.
The commission then chose another judge, Johnson Lamm, to be appointed.
Insiders said Lam was not seen as more conservative or liberal in his rulings than Yuen, and there is no evidence that lawmakers acted on Beijing’s orders in Yuen’s case.
But senior legal figures were concerned that Yuen’s case could set a precedent for the legislature, which is dominated by pro-Beijing politicians, to formally review judicial appointments. This in turn could undermine the authority of the JORC, the Judicial Appointment Committee.
A senior legal figure said a political review of appointments could result in judges being chosen on the basis of their loyalty to Beijing rather than their abilities, and could deter the best candidates of progress.
Yohannes Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong, said Yuen’s case was a “disturbing and poor development for the independence of the judiciary”.
“It provides a channel for political interference in the appointment of key judicial personnel by a [legislature] controlled by pro-Beijing politicians.
Critics said last year’s government decision to Appointment of separate judges As for issues related to the national security law, which Beijing introduced in the territory last year in the wake of the protests, it has already damaged notions of judicial independence.
The trial of Tong Ying-kit, The The first person charged Under the Security Act, she is set to begin Wednesday in front of these judges.
Lawmakers Zhao and Kuat declined to comment on Yuen’s case. Carrie Lam declined to comment but said, “All appointments of judicial officials by the Chief Executive are made in accordance with the Basic Law,” the territory’s mini-constitution.
Jeffrey Ma declined to comment.
The head of the legislature concerned with the Department of Justice and Legal Services, Horace Cheung, said he had approached the government and the judiciary “to obtain preliminary opinions . . . on the issues raised by members” of his committee regarding the nomination process.