Special Report: Hong Kong judges battle Beijing over rule of law as pandemic chills protests

Here’s a special report from Reuters about Beijing’s increasingly aggressive attacks ( under Covid cover) on HK’s judiciary. Will Beijing now influence the appointment of judges ? It looks increasingly likely.

Here’s the introduction to the report

Even as the novel coronavirus has brought the protests in Hong Kong to a near standstill, the struggle rages on over the future of China’s freest city. Three of Hong Kong’s most senior judges told Reuters that the independent judiciary, the cornerstone of the city’s broad freedoms, is in a fight for its survival.

Beijing’s effort to hobble the judiciary is multi-pronged, according to more than two dozen interviews with judges, leading lawyers and diplomats in Hong Kong. The state-controlled press on the mainland has warned Hong Kong judges not to “absolve” protesters arrested during last year’s demonstrations.

Judges and lawyers say there are signs Beijing is trying to limit the authority of Hong Kong courts to rule on core constitutional matters. And people close to the city’s top judge, Geoffrey Ma, say he has to contend with Communist Party officials pushing Beijing’s view that the rule of law ultimately must be a tool to preserve one-party rule.

That tension flared into view last September when Ma spoke at the International Bar Association conference in Seoul about the rule of law, including the extensive human rights protections built into Hong Kong’s legal system. Judges must not be influenced by “extraneous factors such as politics,” Hong Kong’s chief justice said.

As Ma finished, said three witnesses, a representative from AllBright Law Offices, a leading mainland Chinese legal firm that co-sponsored the lunch event, rushed to the podium to object to what he said was a “political” speech by the chief justice. Amid gasps and snorts of derision, the man was escorted from the microphone, the witnesses said. AllBright did not respond to questions.

Some in the city’s legal establishment are now bracing for the possibility that China will begin to meddle in the appointment of new judges, following objections by some pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong to two recent appointments on the top court. With the search currently underway for at least one new justice for the top court, the three judges who spoke to Reuters said they feared vacancies could create an opening for Beijing.