HONG KONG • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she will not select judges to preside over cases brought under the city’s new security law, in an apparent attempt to assuage concerns about the controversial legislation.
Mrs Lam said yesterday that, as Chief Executive, she would instead appoint a panel of judges based on recommendations from a judicial body.
“When one day there are national security cases, the responsibility to assign which judge on that list to handle a case still lies on the judiciary of Hong Kong,” she told reporters. “The Executive is not responsible for that.”
China’s planned national security law for Hong Kong has stoked fears among democracy activists in the city and some foreign governments that Beijing is further eroding extensive autonomy promised when Britain handed the territory back to China under a “one country, two systems” formula in 1997.
Hong Kong’s common law-based legal system is widely seen as the bedrock of that formula, underpinning its status as a global financial hub.
China says the national security law, which is expected to be passed next week, will target only a small group of troublemakers as it tackles separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong.
The full details of the legislation have not been made public, and Mrs Lam acknowledged yesterday that she has yet to view the entire document.
Reports in Chinese state media over the weekend had suggested that Mrs Lam could select judges for related cases, triggering alarm among some lawyers who called it a serious challenge to Hong Kong’s coveted judicial independence.
Critics have also raised concerns that the law will exclude foreign judges, commonly used in Hong Kong, from presiding over national security cases.
The fear is that it could leave judges more favourable to Beijing to handle those cases.
“In the released details of the legislation, the problem concerning nationality of judges handling national security cases is not yet mentioned,” Mrs Lam said.
The top decision-making body of China’s Parliament has scheduled another meeting for June 28 to 30, and the law, which is likely to pave the way for the biggest change to the city’s way of life, is expected to be enacted then.