BEIJING • Beijing’s planned national security legislation for Hong Kong is set to block its foreign judges from handling national security trials, people familiar with the matter said, which would exacerbate concerns about the city’s judicial independence.
Having lost patience with Hong Kong’s failure to adopt national security laws on its own, China announced last week that it would directly enact laws to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the city.
The legislation, which the sources said remains subject to change, would also see both central and city government security agencies set up in Hong Kong. The sources declined to be identified.
Sources and delegates to China’s Parliament said the law was likely to be enacted before Hong Kong’s legislative elections in September.
Hong Kong’s foreign judges stem from an arrangement established at the city’s 1997 handover to help maintain its credibility as an international financial hub.
Its highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, has 23 judges, of whom 15 are foreign, from places such as Britain and Australia. The non-permanent members are called on periodically to sit on cases.
While under the new law they would no longer be able to handle national security cases, they will not be excluded from other cases, the sources said.
Any move to limit the role of foreign judges is likely to alarm some Hong Kong lawyers and judges, who already fear the city’s vaunted judicial independence is under threat from Beijing’s Communist Party leadership.
The Hong Kong Bar Association said China’s plan to impose the law without public consultation or local legislative scrutiny had caused “deep unease in the local and international community”.