Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen has commended the delivery of “very good reasoned judgements” by Hong Kong judges in cases concerning two lawmakers ousted from the legislature, and pro-democracy protesters who took part in the 2014 Occupy movement.

“As demonstrated by the reasoned judgements, no one can have any valid justification that the judges have been affected by any political or other undue motives,” Yuen said on Wednesday.

Rimsky Yeung (R) and Michael Lawrence, chief executive of the Asia House (L). Photo: GovHK.

Yuen was speaking on Hong Kong’s rule of law and the One Country, Two Systems policy at think-tank Asia House in London. The event took place on the first day of his UK tour.

The justice secretary said Hong Kong judges “continue to deliver very good reasoned judgements, whether in general civil cases or in controversial public law cases,” citing as an example the ousting of localist lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung.

He said the rulings illustrate that the judges “dealt with cases in a professional, apolitical and judicial manner.”

On Yuen’s watch, the Department of Justice filed the unprecedented judicial review challenge last October in a bid to disqualify democratically-elected lawmakers from the legislature. The High Court ruled in favour of the government last November.

Yuen also referred to an injunction granted by the court in 2014 to minibus company Chiu Luen Public Bus against Occupy protesters in Mong Kok as an example of judicial professionalism.

Legal aid

The justice secretary also said Hong Kong enjoys a “robust legal aid system” on the basis that it gives legal assistance to anyone regardless of their political stance.

Minibus fleet of Chiu Luen Public Bus Company in Mong Kok.

He gave the example of activists in the Occupy protests and last year’s Mong Kok unrest granted legal aid to defend themselves in litigation.

Around HK$36.3 million was spent last year in legal aid to assist applicants bringing judicial reviews against decisions made by the government, according to Yuen.

Besides legal aid and professional judges, Yuen said Hong Kong’s rule of law has been upheld owing to a transparent legal system and a merit-based recruitment system of judges.

Article 23

Yuen was asked about whether the controversial Article 23 anti-subversion law may be introduced. He replied that it is Hong Kong’s constitutional duty to codify Article 23, and the only issue is when and how it will be legislated, RTHK reported.

Rimsky Yuen. Photo: GovHK.

He said he believed the government will ensure good communication with the general public and seek wide acceptance before pushing for the legislation.

See also: Pro-dem. lawmakers call for Justice Sec. to resign for failing to defend judicial independence

Incoming leader Carrie Lam has yet to announce her cabinet, but it is rumoured that Yuen will remain – at least for part of his second term – to see several projects through, including the controversial joint checkpoint proposal for the Express Rail Link.

Yuen previously faced calls to resign after Beijing issued an interpretation of the Basic Law on the legal requirements of oaths to be taken by public officers.

Despite public opposition, the interpretation was handed down after then-lawmakers Yau and Leung made controversial gestures during a swearing-in session at the legislature. Many legal experts considered Beijing’s move to be politically motivated, while critics accused Yuen of failing to defend judicial independence.

Yuen will speak on Thursday at St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford about Hong Kong’s common law development.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.