Veteran Australian judge James Spigelman resigns from HK’s top court, citing national security law

19-Sep-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A veteran Australian judge has resigned from Hong Kong’s top court two years before his term was set to expire, citing the Beijing-decreed national security law.

According to the government gazette published on Friday, the appointment of James Spigelman as a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal had been withdrawn by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor from September 2.

A spokesman for Lam’s office said: “The chief executive revoked his appointment in accordance with the relevant legislation. Justice Spigelman did not give any reason for his resignation.”

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Spigelman, 74, who has an early background in broadcasting and media law, was chief justice of New South Wales from 1998 to 2011. He was appointed as a non-permanent judge of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal in 2013.

After retiring from his chief justice role in New South Wales, he was appointed chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2012 for a term of five years.

Spigelman told the ABC he resigned for reasons “related to the content of the national security legislation”, without further elaboration. The Post has contacted Spigelman through the Lowy Institute where he serves as a board member.

A senior legal source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “He (Spigelman) had stated that his resignation was related to the content of the national security legislation. This is most worrying.

“Apart from possible resignations, it may be difficult for the Court of Final Appeal to recruit distinguished overseas jurists as non-permanent in the future. This would adversely affect the reputation of the CFA and the judiciary generally.”

Spigelman’s most recent involvement in a Hong Kong case centred on a March ruling when the Court of Final Appeal underscored precisely what it considered corrupt conduct at election time in rejecting the appeal of a Hong Kong waiter who had offered cash to parties willing to take on opposition contenders in the 2015 district council race.

Hong Kong’s judiciary has come under increasing pressure in the politically divided city, with judges dragged into controversies over cases involving anti-government protesters, and most recently, the newly enacted national security law.

The judiciary has also been thrust into a debate over the very concept of separation of powers, a question that strikes at the heart of the constitutional role of judges and which has drawn conflicting opinions from the city’s top justice and chief executive.

Lam said there was no “separation of powers” in the city’s executive-led political system, but insisted there was nonetheless judicial independence and a clear division of work between different branches of the administration.

There have been calls for judges from other common law jurisdictions to step down from the city’s top court following the imposition of the sweeping national security law on June 30, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. In July, the president of the British Supreme Court in London, Lord Reed of Allermuir, hinted its judges might no longer be able to serve in Hong Kong if the new law undermined the city’s judicial independence.

“The Supreme Court supports the judges of Hong Kong in their commitment to safeguard judicial independence and the rule of law,” Lord Reed said. “It will continue to assess the position in Hong Kong as it develops, in discussion with the UK government.”


Category: Hong Kong

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