Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said it was “extremely disturbing” for her to learn of UK politicians’ comments questioning Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

A group of eminent international figures – including former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats Lord Ashdown – previously condemned Hong Kong’s jailing of pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow. They called the court decision “an outrageous miscarriage of justice, a death knell for Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic human rights,” and a severe blow to the principles of “One Country, Two Systems.”

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Lam is on a three-day official visit to London. In a speech, she highlighted some incidents in the first few months of her tenure as Hong Kong leader, including the disqualification of four pro-democracy lawmakers, the rejection of another two ousted lawmakers’ appeals, the jailing of student activists, and Hong Kong independence banners at universities, among other issues.

“All these require immediate actions and unequivocal response which fall on the shoulders of the Chief Executive: there is simply no room for wait-and-see or delegation,” she said at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s annual dinner in London.

But she said that “the best of Hong Kong is yet to come,” adding that Hong Kong’s advantages include “rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, a robust legal aid system ensuring access to justice, as well as freedom and rights guaranteed under the Basic Law.”

“It is therefore extremely disturbing for me to learn that some politicians and commentators here in the UK are querying the independence of our judges over recent judgements, without any sound basis,” she said, without naming anyone.

Carrie Lam Lydia Dunn
Carrie Lam and Baroness Dunn in London. Photo: GovHK.

“Those comments are totally unfair to our judicial system, which has gained worldwide recognition, and disrespectful of our judges, including illustrious UK judges who sit on our Court of Final Appeal as non-permanent judges.”

Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, has said the choice to appeal the sentences of Joshua Wong and other democracy activists was a “political decision” by the Secretary of Justice Rimsky Yuen, but he said he thought Hong Kong was still subject to the rule of law, and that it was not accurate to call activists political prisoners.

Asked if Lam’s comments were targeted at him, Patten said: “If she’d named me, she would be mistaken. I never ever, ever, ever criticised Hong Kong judges. I criticised the secretary for justice.”

Of the 19 Court of Final Appeal judges in Hong Kong, 15 are non-permanent, including eight from the UK.

During her visit, Lam witnessed the signing of the Fintech Bridge agreement in London, which encourages financial technology firms in both Hong Kong and the UK to use the facilities and assistance available in both places to explore new business opportunities.

Carrie Lam David Wilson
Carrie Lam with former Hong Kong governor David Wilson. Photo: GovHK.

She also met with UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. They discussed issues such as FinTech, regulatory expertise, new business opportunities arising from the Belt and Road Initiative, and green finance.

Carrie Lam Philip Hammond
Carrie Lam with Philip Hammond. Photo: GovHK.

Meanwhile, she visited London’s new Crossrail, which will be operated by the MTR Corporation. She had an exchange with the Minister of State at the Department for Education Nick Gibb, and also with the art and design sector, during which she highlighted the West Kowloon Cultural District project.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.