Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice has condemned attacks on judges, including the posting of personal information, during a speech at the opening ceremony of the legal year on Monday.

“Doxxing activities towards judges and other persons involved in the administration of justice was on the rise and must be curtailed,” Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng said, referring to incidents over the past year.

Photo: Screenshot via RTHK.

Cheng also hit back against certain public commentary on Hong Kong’s judiciary: “Judges are required to adjudicate cases independently and impartially. Comments and discussions on court decisions are always permissible within the boundary of the law if done rationally and objectively,” the secretary said.

“Yet some remarks that have surfaced are nothing like that,” she said. “Any unfair or unfounded remarks with the ulterior motive of exerting pressure or undue influence on our judges in dispensing justice will be to no avail.”

The newly-sworn in Chief Justice Andrew Cheung expressed the same sentiments in his inaugural speech, saying that external pressure placed on the judiciary were “reprehensible.”

Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal Andrew Cheung Kui-nung. Photo: Judiciary screenshot.

Last year, state-backed media outlets Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po published editorials lambasting judges deemed to have ruled in favour of protesters arrested during the 2019 anti-government protests. Meanwhile, security law judge Victor So reportedly received death threats.

National security law

In her speech, the Secretary for Justice defended the appointment of national security judges under the security law, describing criticism surrounding the controversial law as “baseless.”

“Many unfair and ill-informed criticisms have been made against the designation of judges by the Chief Executive, with remarks that it will undermine Hong Kong’s judicial system,” Cheng said. “It should be reiterated that the Chief Executive only designates a list of judges… to hear cases involving issues of national security, rather than assigning which judge to preside over a specific case.”

Photo: GovHK.

Cheng also repeated authorities’ assertions last year that Hong Kong is governed by an “executive-led” system. “The national security law brings into sharp focus the constitutional order of Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

“China is a unitary state, and the powers of the branches of the HKSAR emanate from the Central Authorities,” the secretary continued. “The Constitution and the Basic Law form the constitutional basis of the HKSAR. A proper understanding of this concept is of utmost importance to comprehend our legal system.”

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.