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Retired Senior Judge Claims to Maintain Hong Kong's Judicial Independence

Retired Senior Judge Claims to Maintain Hong Kong's Judicial Independence

 Hong Kong's outgoing top judge made a request on Tuesday to maintain judicial independence, as China's state media and a growing number of pro-Beijing figures call for a review of the way the financial center's courts are run.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong owes much of its business success to a transparent and internationally respected common law legal system that contrasts with the opaque and party-controlled courts in authoritarian China.

But that system has come under sustained pressure in the wake of the huge pro-democracy protests of 2019 and the subsequent crackdown by Beijing.

Last year, Beijing began asserting more direct control over the city, including imposing a sweeping national security law that silenced dissent and abolished the legal firewall between the mall and the mainland.

Top Chinese politicians, state media, as well as leading pro-Beijing figures and newspapers in Hong Kong have also lobbied for reform of the judiciary or criticized recent rulings and sentences that they do not like.

Opponents fear those calls could herald the arrival of a legal system more akin to the authoritarian continent.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma, 64, addressed those concerns in a final press conference before his retirement.

"What we most need is judicial independence in Hong Kong," he said.

"There are three articles in the Basic Law that emphasize that Hong Kong has judicial independence, this is what we must remember the most," he added, referring to the city's mini-constitution.

Ma, who was born in Hong Kong and educated in Britain, said the judiciary was open to reform if it meant improving what they do.

"But it is not particularly satisfying to ask for reform on the basis of an outcome that you do not like. It is certainly not a good or acceptable starting point for me to want reforms to make sure I always get the result I want," he added. .

The judges have found themselves in the firing line of Hong Kong's polarized politics, including some whose private details were leaked online, known as doxxing.

Democrats and government loyalists alike have criticized decisions they don't like, but calls to reform the judiciary have so far only come from pro-Beijing figures.

In the most recent example, last month, the People's Daily newspaper, a spokesman for the Beijing Communist Party, published a scathing criticism of a Hong Kong judge's decision to grant bail to Jimmy Lai, a media mogul. in favor of democracy who was later placed in preventive detention by a higher court. .

Ma said he did not face direct interference from Beijing or the Hong Kong government during his ten years as the city's top judge.

Criticism of the judges, he relented, had peaked last year, prompting his office to issue an "unprecedented" number of statements.

But he rejected concerns that such pressure would affect the impartiality of the judges.

"In handling cases, judges are going to look only at the law, the legal principle and the spirit of the law," he said.

Ma will be succeeded by Andrew Cheung, a permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal.

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