The Hong Kong government has criticised a decision to downgrade the city’s adherence to the rule of law in an international index, saying it could indicate “a lack of an accurate and overall understanding of the real situation.”

The comments came after Hong Kong fell out of the top 20 of the World Justice Project (WJP)’s Rule of Law Index 2022. The city dropped three places to be ranked 22nd among 140 countries and regions surveyed.

Judiciary Court of Final Appeal
Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. Photo: Supplied.

Hong Kong ranked higher than “some western countries which often unreasonably criticise the rule of law and human rights situation” of the city, said a government spokesperson in a statement on Wednesday.

“We will step up our efforts in explaining Hong Kong’s situation to ensure that others have a correct understanding of the system in Hong Kong,” the statement read.

While coming sixth in the Asia-Pacific region, the city’s score decreased by 2.8 per cent from last year, which marked the second-largest drop in the region after Myanmar.

The government also said they “totally disagree with” comments by a WJP official which “only reflects the lack of understanding of the real situation of Hong Kong by the person.”

Ted Piccone, a senior adviser of WJP, said in a press briefing that the decline in Hong Kong’s ranking might have been a result of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

“Since the law gives the executive significant power to prosecute peaceful protesters, opposition voices, and dissidents… it has limited people’s freedom of association, freedom of expression, and other fundamental rights,” Piccone said.

hkfp_2022-10WJP rule of law index 2022-25_15-29-14
Rule of Law Index 2022. Photo: WJP.

The national security law imposed in June 2020 criminalises subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which are 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.

Defendants charged under the national security law face a stricter bail threshold, and cases at the High Court may be tried without a jury.

Judicial independence

Piccone said the security law increased government powers and decreased judicial independence since Hong Kong’s chief executive could appoint judges for national security cases.

The government said the system of designated national security judges would not “in any way affect the independence of the Judiciary.”

National security law
Photo: GovHK.

The Judiciary told HKFP its commitment to upholding the rule of law and judicial independence was “wholly unaffected” by the implementation of the national security law, and there was “no question of the impartiality of the courts being affected by the requirement of designated judges under the [national security law].”

“[Judges and Judicial Officers’] constitutional duty is to exercise their judicial power independently and professionally in every case on the basis of the law and evidence, and nothing else,” the Judiciary said in a statement.

“Such duty has not changed (and will not change) even when judges are to decide on national security cases or any other cases arising from or involving political controversies.”

Chan Chak-ming, president of the Law Society which represents solicitors, said in a statement on Thursday that the group was studying the index in detail, and that they “value any objective, independent data or rankings on the rule of law as reference material for the government and the legal sector to make improvement as necessary.”

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.