The new Hong Kong Bar Association chair has expressed concerns that Hong Kong judges face an upward trend of “unreasonable” criticism from the general public.
“I am worried – even angry – that judges face an increasing number of unreasonable accusations and criticism, some of which are insulting or threatening,” Paul Lam Ting-kwok, who assumed office last month, told RTHK on Saturday.
“In a society that respects free speech, of course we are entitled to comment on judicial decisions, but our opinions should be made after fully understanding the evidence of the cases and the reasons behind the rulings. Further, we should exercise self-restraint in our wording and attitude.”
In recent years, judicial personnel have been targeted by groups in both the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps.
Last year, pro-China protesters gathered outside the High Court during a rare demonstration held by the legal sector in response to Beijing’s intervention in the legislature’s oath row. The pro-China group accused the judiciary of letting “rioters” go free and attempting to overpower the government. They also chanted slogans such as “judges don’t know what they are saying.”
Last February, former anti-corruption official Kwok Man-wai urged the public to dox the magistrate who granted bail to localist leader Ray Wong. Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said in response that the general public is entitled to comment on judicial decisions, but urged them to respect the rule of law.
Doxxing entails an effort to research and broadcast private or identifiable information about an individual or organisation, usually online.
Last December, a magistrate who heard cases related to the Mong Kok unrest that erupted last February alerted police after receiving a blade in the mail. In 2015, before sentencing a woman charged with assaulting police officers with her breasts, another magistrate revealed in court that he had been threatened and feared for his safety.
Lam said he had never doubted the integrity of judges during his 20-plus years of practice. “They are unbiased and dedicated to their work. They make decisions based on nothing but the evidence before them and applicable legal principles,” he said.
He said he was not worried that judges may bow down to outside pressure. “My biggest worry is that if unreasonable criticism and insults are not halted, society will begin to doubt the ability and even integrity of judges… thereby weakening public confidence in the entire judicial system,” he said.
Patrick Ko Tat-pun, an outspoken activist of the pro-Beijing group “Voice of Loving Hong Kong,” told Apple Daily on Saturday that Lam overlooked the fact that some judges are perceived to be biased because their values differ from the values of the general public.
“Some judges are indoctrinated with Western values, believing equality is essential and that protests are fine because [they appreciate] freedom and equality,” Ko said. “But Chinese society values social order and hierarchy. This is a deep-seated value system in the Chinese society in Hong Kong, so the judges are wrong.”
Ko previously accused some judges of being corrupt and harming the public interest. He said he would not take back the statement.
“Their decisions were unfair. Some judges do not deserve respect. They damage the rule of law… that’s why people criticise them,” Ko said.
Lam is a senior lawyer at Parkside Chambers. His predecessor Winnie Tam Wan-chi previously warned against perceived political interference in the judiciary.