The Hong Kong Judiciary released an updated version of its Guide to Judicial Conduct on Monday, 18 years after the handbook was first introduced in 2004. The new handbook includes behavioural guidelines for judges and judicial officers on topics such as the use of social media.

“Judges’ use of social media in their private activities is a matter of personal choice and not objectionable. On the contrary, the lack of a basic knowledge of social media might suggest a judge is out of touch with modern world,” the 2022 guide stated.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. Photo: GovHK.

But the judiciary advised that judges “be aware of the attendant risks with the use of social media, and… act with care,” as social media posts may quickly be seen by the masses, and can be easily searched and disseminated.

According to a press release announcing the update, the judiciary said the inclusion of a guideline on the use of social media was needed to “take into account the impact of the advancement in information technology” in the daily life.

Judges were advised to be wary of “friending,” “liking” or “following” any person, group or entity to avoid any associations that may undermine their impartiality. They were also suggested to consult the Judiciary in case of online abuse or doxxing.

Social media app icons on an iPhone. Photo: Brett Jordan, via Unsplash.

Judges have also been handed extra duties to govern behaviour in courts, according to the new guide.

“Judges have the responsibility to regulate court proceedings and manage any unruly behaviour in the court room or premises which may interfere with the administration of justice, bearing in mind the overarching principle of due administration of justice, and other
relevant considerations including the seriousness of the behaviour and the proportionality of the measures to be adopted to deal with such behaviour,” read an additional paragraph that was added in the 2022 version.

Even before the new guide was published, the city’s judges have become more stringent when regulating the conduct of people attending open court hearings, especially during protest-related cases after 2019.

Two court-goers were charged with “uttering seditious words” for disrupting a court proceedings last month. They allegedly clapped after pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung made a speech when she was sentenced over last year’s unauthorised Tiananmen vigil.

Some judges warned supporters not to wave at defendants, saying they would be filmed if they did so.

Judge Kwok Wai-kin. File photo: Supplied.

Another addition to the new handbook was a sub-section called “comments on persons.” In it, judges were told to avoid “unnecessary criticism” in either oral remarks or in written judgements, when discharging their judicial duties.

In 2020, District Judge Kwok Wai-kin drew comments after he described a man who stabbed three people in front of a pro-democracy message board as “noble.” Kwok also said the assailant was a “victim” of the anti-extradition protests as they affected his livelihood as a tour guide.

Kwok was temporarily barred from handling protest-related cases but was reinstated after a little over one year. He was also later appointed as one of the national security judges.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.