Beijing slams UK judge who quit Hong Kong’s top court for ‘slandering’ rule of law

The Briton described a recent ruling by the High Court as “legally indefensible” after 14 of the 16 opposition figures who contested charges in a landmark subversion case were convicted, saying the national security legislation and the colonial sedition law had severely limited judges’ freedom of action.

Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong sharply criticised Sumption for “publicly smearing” the city’s rule of law. Photo: Jelly Tse

He also said that having overseas judges to help sustain the rule of law in Hong Kong was “no longer realistic”.

A spokesman for Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong sharply criticised Sumption for “publicly smearing” the city’s rule of law, judiciary and local judges and said that his attempts to spread rumours were unethical.

“He blatantly violated the principle of not commenting on pending cases, attacked the judgments of fellow judges, made unreasonable comments on the judgments of pending cases and violated the professional ethics of judges,” the spokesman said.

He also accused Sumption of violating his oath of office as a non-permanent judge by slandering the legitimacy of the top national legislative body in enacting and interpreting the national security law.

“Jonathan Sumption’s absurd remarks deviated from judges’ ethics and professionalism and were in line with the attacks on Hong Kong’s rule of law by external forces,” he said.

“That fully demonstrates that he is willing to serve as a tool for British political manipulation and has completely become a tool for external forces to interfere with and undermine Hong Kong’s security and stability.”

Sumption, 75, and British judge Lawrence Collins, 83, announced their resignations from the Court of Final Appeal last Thursday, with the latter also citing the “political situation” in Hong Kong as the reason for his departure.

Beijing’s Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong also took a swipe at Sumption in a separate statement for “slandering” the national security law it imposed on the city in the wake of the 2019 social unrest.

“Anyone who disregards facts, distorts the truth, makes unwarranted comments and smears national security cases already or yet to be adjudicated are trampling on the spirit of the rule of law,” it said.

“Jonathan Sumption’s absurd behaviour that deviates from professionalism and lacks moral integrity will eventually become a stain in his life that would be hard to wash away,” the office said.

The late evening statements were made a day after the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office posted a commentary on its website under the pen name of “Gang Ao Ping” that called Sumption a “disgrace to the legal profession” for “utterly abandoning professionalism and ethics”.

Beijing’s Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong called British judge Jonathan Sumption’s behaviour “absurd”. Photo: Felix Wong
During his latest interview with British media this week, Sumption rejected his move as political, after Hong Kong leader John Lee Ka-chiu said that justices’ professional expertise “was not on politics” in response to his op-ed.

“What I’ve done is to make a point about the impact of politics on the judiciary, and that it’s something on which I have a good deal of personal experience,” Sumption said.

He added that the imposition of the national security law had made life “progressively more difficult” for Hongkongers, especially those who voiced objection to the government policies.

“The object to which the national security law has been used, is essentially to suppress peaceful dissent,” he told the same show, citing the subversion trial involving opposition figures.

Hong Kong, the only common law jurisdiction in China, is permitted to recruit judges from elsewhere under its mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The tradition is seen as an indicator of confidence in the city’s rule of law.

Another Court of Final Appeal judge, Canadian Beverley McLachlin, 80, announced on Monday that she would retire once her term ended this summer, saying she intended to spend more time with her family.

But she added she continued to have confidence in the members of the court, their independence and their determination to uphold the rule of law.

Her departure would mean there would soon only be seven overseas non-permanent judges sitting on the city’s top bench.


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