Justice Andrew Cheung is set to replace Geoffrey Ma as chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday.

Ma previously said he would step down upon reaching retirement age at 65 on January 11 next year. Lam said she had accepted the recommendation of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission to appoint Cheung as the new chief justice.

Geoffrey Ma
Geoffrey Ma. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“Cheung is an extremely talented judge, [he] has extraordinary abilities and leadership skills. He is highly respected in the legal and judicial sector. He has been the chief justice of the High Court for over seven years, which makes him experienced in the administration of justice,” Lam said.

“Rule of law is the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity. Judicial independence can safeguard the rule of law while guaranteeing the fairness and functionality of the judicial system.”

Lawmakers must now endorse his appointment as the head of the judiciary.

Andrew Cheung
Andrew Cheung. File Photo: GovHK.

In a press release, Lam thanked Chief Justice Ma: “The achievements of Chief Justice Ma have left behind a world acclaimed Judiciary that will maintain its stature in the hands of his successor. With his solid judicial experience, I am confident that Mr Justice Cheung will discharge his duties as the head of the Judiciary with distinction.”

Justice Cheung, 58, obtained his undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in law from the University of Hong Kong before graduating with a masters degree in law from Harvard University in 1985. He was called to the Hong Kong bar in 1985 and was admitted as advocate and solicitor of the supreme court of Singapore in 1995.

basic law hong kong one country two systems legal
Photo: GovHK.

From 1986, he had a private practice in Hong Kong before becoming a district judge in 2001. He became judge of the court of first instance in 2003 and chief judge of the high court in 2001. In 2018, he was appointed permanent judge of the court of final appeal.

Judicial reviews

Cheung has overseen a number of controversial appeals, including one which ousted democratically elected lawmakers Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-Ching from the Hong Kong legislature. He said that it would be “arrogant and ignorant” to decide what China’s legal system can or cannot do under the One Country, Two Systems policy.

He previously said that Hong Kong’s de facto constitution favours heterosexual marriage and therefore it is not discriminatory for gay people to be excluded from marrying

In 2018, he allowed activist Joshua Wong to be released from prison on bail pending an appeal after stating that his original three-month term had “not given any, or any sufficient consideration” to his age.

In 2015, he rejected an appeal against a court’s decision which granted an injunction to Chiu Luen Public Light Bus Company Limited who demanded the clearance of roads in Mong Kok occupied by pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protesters.

According to a government press release on Tuesday, Cheung said that he was”fully conscious of the community’s high expectations of the Judiciary and that if appointed he will do his utmost to ensure that the rule of law and judicial independence are maintained and that the rights and freedoms of the individual are safeguarded.”

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.