Baroness Hale, the first female president of the UK Supreme Court, has revealed that she is to leave her post as one of 13 non-permanent overseas judges on the Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal.
Speaking on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and as China’s control over the former British colony tightens, Lady Hale said that when her three-year term on the court expires at the end of July, 'I don’t wish to be reappointed'.
But she stressed that her decision was not related to the political situation in the territory. She told a panel discussion on the rule of law last night: 'Principally, I cannot foresee a time when I would actually want to get on a plane to go to Hong Kong.'
Lady Hale, who retired from the UK Supreme Court last year, said her decision is 'not a comment on what’s going on there', adding that 'the other non permanent judges are keeping a careful eye on how things are'.
Since China passed controversial national security laws, which crack down on free speech and the right to protest and give more control to Beijing, some politicians, including Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general, have called on the 10 UK judges who sit on the court to quit.
Speaking at the event organised by the National Pro Bono Centre, Lady Hale said that despite the new laws, Hong Kong still has an independent judiciary and is functioning in accordance with the rule, 'at least as far as commercial law is concerned'.
She acknowledged concerns with the laws, adding: ’The jury is out, on how they will be able to operate the new national security law. There are all sorts of question marks up in the air.’
Lady Hale will be the first UK judge to depart the Hong Kong court since the national security legislation was passed, leaving nine others, including the president of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed, and his deputy, Lord Hodge.
Another former president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, and Lord Gestingthorpe, a former justice of the Supreme Court, agreed in March to renew their terms on Hong Kong’s top court for another three years.
Other UK judges on the court include the first president of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, and another former justice of the court, Lord Sumption.