Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association Philip Dykes has criticised attacks against judgments based on political opinion as “pure poison,” saying such comments undermine and damage confidence in the judiciary.

In a speech marking the opening of the legal year on Monday, Dykes said it was primarily the responsibility of the secretary for justice to rein in attacks on judicial independence and acts committed in contempt of court.

Philip Dykes. Photo: Judiciary screenshot.

“When there is a creeping barrage of baseless criticism that supposes that judges are politically biased, incompetent or dishonest, the damage is done – not so much to the judges, who have broad backs – but to the Judiciary as an institution,” he said.

Dykes’ comments came two weeks after Chinese state-run outlet People’s Daily criticised a court’s decision to grant bail to Jimmy Lai, founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, saying it “deeply hurt Hong Kong’s rule of law.” Lai was charged and detained for allegedly colluding with foreign forces and violating the national security law.

He was briefly released on conditional bail but was put back behind bars after the city’s top court approved the prosecution’s bid to appeal a lower court’s decision.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said comments made based on facts and legal arguments will not create pressure on the judiciary.

Jimmy Lai. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In his speech, Dykes said he was not referring to any harsh criticism against judges and their judgements, which might sometimes be justified. Rather, his main concern were accusations that judges had acted out of partiality or bad faith “for no reason other than that they happened to decide a case one way rather than the other. Or because the result does not fit a political or moral agenda.”

“Attacks like this are pure poison,” he said, and it is the justice secretary’s responsibility to ensure accountability for these acts. In the three years he has held office as chairman of the bar, the barristers association has issued a dozen statements on the topic compared to none when he held the same position between 2005 and 2007. “If nothing is done about attacks, they will undermine confidence and respect for the courts and the administration of justice will slowly evaporate,” he said.

Citing case law, Dykes also said that the law must reconcile the principals of free speech and the necessity to maintain public confidence in its administration, as the latter is essential for judicial independence.

“And without judicial independence, a pearl of great price, we might as well pack up our bags and steal away for Hong Kong is nothing without it,” he said.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.