A former Supreme Court president has refused to bow to pressure to step down as one of the remaining three retired British judges in Hong Kong’s highest court. 

Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury told a panel discussion on international courts at the Bar Council’s conference in London on Saturday that he was going to remain on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. Neuberger, who was president of the Supreme Court from 2012 to 2017, said: 'My feeling is that so long as I can do good by being there and so long as I think that I might cause harm by leaving, I want to stay and support my judicial colleagues in Hong Kong and support the rule of law as long as I can.'

His comments come in the wake of the decision by two of his former colleagues on the court – Lord Sumption and Lord Collins of Mapesbury, both former Supreme Court judges – to stand down last week.

Lord Neuberger

Neuberger says he will continue to sit for ‘as long as I can do good by being there’

Source: Paul Grover/Shutterstock

Neuburger said that he understood the views of those who suggest that foreign judges should leave and that he was not suggesting that Sumption and Collins were wrong to go. 'It’s a matter of individual assessment as to when the water gets too hot,' said Neuberger, adding that he is aware of 'the boiling frog syndrome'. 

In 2022, Lord Reed of Allermuir and Lord Hodge, the president and deputy president of the Supreme Court, withdrew from their roles on the Hong Kong bench, following the decision by Lady Hale, the former president of the Supreme Court, to leave the year before. The other two remaining retired British judges on the Hong Kong bench are Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, who in 2009 became the first president of the Supreme Court, and the former Law Lord, Lord Hoffmann. 

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal replaced the Privy Council as the highest court when the former British colony was returned to the Chinese in 1997. Pressure on the remaining judges to quit is likely to increase if the publisher Jimmy Lai, currently on trial in Hong Kong for charges in the national security law, is convicted. 

Critics claim that the rule of law in Hong Kong has been so degraded by the security laws and that the foreign judges risk giving the imprimatur of respectability to the Beijing regime. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Labour’s former attorney general, said that the position of the remaining UK judges on the Hong Kong court was ‘untenable’.


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