Canadian judge to retire from Hong Kong’s top court, becomes third member to step down

A Canadian judge will retire from Hong Kong’s top court after her term ends this summer, becoming the third non-permanent member to announce their departure in a week.

The judiciary on Tuesday announced the retirement of Beverley McLachlin, a non-permanent judge with the Court of Final Appeal, just days after UK judges Jonathan Sumption and Lawrence Collins said they would step down.

Sumption, 75, wrote in an opinion piece published on Monday that Hong Kong’s rule of law was “profoundly compromised”, while Collins, 83, earlier expressed concerns over the city’s “political situation”. The government later issued a lengthy rebuttal in response to Sumption’s article.

McLachlin told local media that she had reached the age of 80 and advised the chief justice on May 24 that she would retire on July 29.

“While I will continue certain professional responsibilities, I intend to spend more time with my family,” she said.

“It has been a privilege serving the people of Hong Kong. I continue to have confidence in the members of the court, their independence and their determination to uphold the rule of law.”

The judiciary confirmed on Tuesday morning that McLachlin would not renew her term, but stopped short of providing any further details.

She served as Canada’s chief justice from 2000 to 2017, before joining Hong Kong’s top court in 2018.

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

With McLachlin’s retirement, only seven non-permanent overseas judges will remain. The seven are Leonard Hoffmann, David Neuberger, Nicholas Phillips, William Gummow, Robert French, Patrick Keane and James Allsop.

Two overseas judges – veteran Australian justice James Spigelman and former top British judge Brenda Hale – earlier resigned following the enactment of the Beijing-decreed national security law in 2020.
Beverley McLachlin served as Canada’s chief justice from 2000 to 2017, before joining Hong Kong’s top court in 2018. Photo: Reuters

The local government on Tuesday issued a strongly worded statement after outgoing UK judge Sumption published an opinion piece with the Financial Times titled “The rule of law in Hong Kong is in grave danger” on Monday.

In the piece, he wrote that judges in the city had to “operate in an impossible political environment created by China” and the rule of law was “profoundly compromised in areas about which the government feels strongly”.

In response, the government said that anyone suggesting the city’s courts were under political pressure was “utterly wrong, totally baseless and must be righteously refuted”.


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