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Hong Kong says Britain 'weaponizing' judiciary after judge quits, citing China interference

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu accused Britain of weaponizing its judicial influence after a senior British judge resigned from its highest court saying the independence of the courts was being undermined by pressure from China. File photo by Lam Yik/EPA-EFE
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu accused Britain of weaponizing its judicial influence after a senior British judge resigned from its highest court saying the independence of the courts was being undermined by pressure from China. File photo by Lam Yik/EPA-EFE

June 11 (UPI) -- Hong Kong's chief executive, John Lee, hit back Tuesday at a senior appeal court judge who quit due to "the oppressive situation created by China," adding that the territory was sliding into totalitarianism.

Accusing Court of Final Appeal judge Lord Jonathan Sumption, who resigned Thursday along with fellow British judge Lord Lawrence Collins, of being politically motivated and arguing he should stick to the law and stay out of politics, Lee told a news briefing that Britain was "weaponizing its judicial influence to target China and Hong Kong."

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The judges' departures followed the conviction of 14 pro-democracy activists on conspiracy to commit subversion charges under a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020, which Sumption said was the final stroke.

The defendants, former lawmakers among them, face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.

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"I think that the picture is getting darker. The judgment against the 14 democracy activists was a major indication of the lengths to which some judges are prepared to go to ensure that Beijing's campaign against those who have supported democracy succeeds," Sumption told BBC Radio.

"I have reached the point eventually where I don't think that my continuing presence on the court is serving any useful purpose."

Collins said he had resigned after 13 years "because of the political situation in Hong Kong" but stressed that he continued to have "the fullest confidence in the court and the total independence of its members."

Four other British judges continue to hold non-permanent senior judicial posts in Hong Kong.

Lee said there was absolutely no truth to the claim that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region courts are under any political pressure from the Beijing or the HKSAR governments in the adjudication of national security cases or indeed any case of any nature; or that there is any decline in the rule of law in Hong Kong.

Insisting that the independence of the judiciary was guaranteed by Hong Kong's mini-constitution, Lee said judges' "professional expertise is on law, based on his legal knowledge and experience, not on politics."

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"A judge is entitled to his personal political preferences," Lee said. "A judge can like a particular system or dislike it. He may also like a particular law or not, but his professional duty is to interpret and apply that particular piece of law in accordance with legal principles and evidence, whether he likes that law or not; not from his political stance."

Lee pointed to the fact Lord Sumption had previously defended the independence of the judicial system.

"His latest statement indicates that he does not like the political situation in Hong Kong. But this is exactly the area he has told us in 2021 that should not be confused with the rule of law," he said.

"His recent statement looks to me to be contradictory to his previous stance in this regard. Indeed, people who try to damage the rule of law in Hong Kong, are among those in the U.K, in the U.K. Government, the U.K. politicians and some anti-China, anti-Hong Kong media.

"They openly threatened to impose sanctions on judges before, during and after the trials. These are blatant attempts to attack the rule of law in Hong Kong."

Lee said the HKSAR Government "will not, interfere or attempt to interfere, with judges' conduct of trials. We have not done it and we will not do it. Non-interference of the judicial process is the DNA of Hong Kong's rule of law."

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