Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma has warned judges against expressing “unwarranted or unnecessary political views” after a judge was relieved of handling protests-related cases due to his controversial sentencing remarks.
District Judge Kwok Wai-kin compared pro-democracy demonstrators to “terrorists” and expressed sympathy with the attacker who was found guilty of wounding with intent after he slashed three citizens with opposite political views in front of a protester message board. A 26-year-old journalist suffered a collapsed lung and was left in a critical condition for a period of time.
The incident happened last August during the city-wide unrest over a now-axed extradition law and democratic reform. In his sentencing remarks, Kwok said the defendant, Tony Hung, was a victim of the protests because they had affected his livelihood as a tour guide.
On Monday, the judiciary released a statement on behalf of the chief justice, who said judges had a responsibility to the community to adjudicate fairly and impartially without fear or favour.
“A judge or judicial officer who expresses in public unwarranted or unnecessary political views risks compromising the appearance of impartiality and ability to hear any cases in which one’s political stance may reasonably be regarded as relevant,” Ma wrote, adding the controversy may have affected public confidence in the judiciary.
“[T]hey must refrain from unnecessarily expressing in public, including in their judgments, any views on matters that are controversial in society or may come before the courts for adjudication,” he wrote. “This is particularly so with political views of whatever nature.”
“For these reasons, the Chief District Judge with the agreement of the Chief Justice has also decided that Judge Kwok should not for the time being deal with any cases involving a similar political context.”
The statement did not clarify how long Kwok would be removed from those cases.
Kwok’s remarks sparked criticisms over his impartiality, with activists calling on the public to file complaints against him. Chief District Judge Ko subsequently replaced Kwok in handling another protest-related case.
Police wrote on Facebook that from June 9 last year to May 14, more than 1,600 people had been prosecuted out of a total of more than 8,300 arrested in connection with the protests.