Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended plans to give her the power to appoint judges to handle national security cases amid concerns over threats to the city’s judicial independence.
The provision was among others included in a draft of the impending Beijing-promulgated national security legislation for the city. It was first reported by state-run Xinhua News Agency on Saturday.
At a weekly press briefing ahead of the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam hit back at criticisms of “executive interference” into the judiciary. She said the Basic Law outlined the chief executive’s “dual identities” as leader of the executive branch, as well as the head of the entire HKSAR.
The proposed law would allow the chief executive to draw up a list of judges from different levels of courts, rather than assigning individuals to handle particular cases, she added.
“When there are national security cases, the judicial branch is still responsible for allocating judges from this list to hear them.”
Lam said her position is responsible for the appointment of judges at all levels of the courts, according to Article 48 of the city’s mini-constitution. Article 88 also stipulates that the leader shall base the appointments on recommendations provided by an independent commission comprised of legal sector personnel.
“The designated judges mentioned in the national security legislation still come from those who have been through this process. To put it simply, the chief executive does not pick a random person on the street and appoint him as the judge,” she said.
On Tuesday, former chief justice Andrew Li wrote in Ming Pao that it would be “inappropriate” for the chief executive – who would reportedly chair the national security commission – to make the selection on his or her own. He said the leader would lack the required knowledge of judges’ experience and expertise.
“This would be detrimental to the independence of the judiciary,” Li wrote.
Li added if this view was not acceptable, the arrangement should at least provide that the chief executive’s selection is based on the chief justice’s recommendation or that of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission.
Asked if she would take up Li’s suggestion, Lam said she would: “This is reasonable. As the chief executive, how do I know so many judges? So I think I would definitely consult the chief justice.”