Two renowned overseas judges are set to become the first female judges to sit on the bench of Hong Kong’s top court after receiving the endorsement of the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced in March that she had accepted a judicial commission’s recommendation to appoint UK Supreme Court President Baroness Hale and former Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as non-permanent judges in the Court of Final Appeal. Top court judge appointments require the approval of the legislature to be finalised.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers earlier voiced concern over what they said were the pro-LGBT stances of the two judges.

Junius Ho. Photo: LegCo.

The Legislative Council debated the matter on Wednesday. Legislator Junius Ho said that he has “great reservations” over the appointment of the two judges and that the public has a right to express their opinions. “The Legislative Council is also not just a rubber stamp,” he said.

Ho said the two judges were progressive and open-minded on LGBT issues, especially concerning same-sex marriage. Ho added: “Let’s not forget that Hong Kong is a traditional society with its own set of values… we must consider how different [those views] are from ours.”

He added that Hong Kong was a predominantly Chinese society with family values emphasising “traditional marriage,” meaning marriage between one man and one woman.

Legislator Ray Chan – who is openly gay – said that referring to judges’ previous rulings or comments to accuse them of having a certain stance, and then asking them to recuse themselves in specific cases was a way to pressure the judiciary.

Chan added that Judge Andrew Cheung – who is also set to become a Court of Final Appeal judge – previously expressed a stance on same-sex marriage, but LGBT rights groups have not asked Cheung to recuse himself. Cheung said in a ruling that, in Hong Kong, marriage is between a man and a woman.

“This is because we believe in the judicial system,” Chan said.

Beverley McLachlin and Brenda Hale. Photo: Supreme Court of Canada/UK.

Speaking at the Legislative Council meeting, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung rejected a suggestion to hold a public hearing on the matter. He said that doing so “will subject the procedure to unnecessary risk of politicisation.”

“This will affect judicial independence and its perception,” he added.

60 lawmakers voted in favour of the motion, zero voted against and only one legislator, Junius Ho, abstained.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.