Twelve Top International Lawyers Warn of Grave Threats to Rule of Law, Judicial Independence and Human Rights in Hong Kong

 Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Sir Desmond De Silva, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Lord Carlile of Berriew.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Sir Desmond De Silva, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Lord Carlile of Berriew.

Twelve senior international lawyers from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Malaysia, including the United Kingdom’s former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer QC, released a letter today expressing their concern that the imprisonment of Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law represents “a serious threat to the rule of law and a breach of the principle of ‘double jeopardy’ in Hong Kong”.

The lawyers criticize the Public Order Ordinance as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and warn that China’s 2014 White Paper on Hong Kong threatens the independence of the judiciary which “risks becoming a charade, at the beck and call of the Chinese Communist Party.” Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic freedoms, at the heart of the principle of “one country, two systems”, now face grave threats, the twelve lawyers warn.

In addition to the former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in the United Kingdom, the letter is also signed by six other Queen’s Counsel (QCs) from the United Kingdom, including the chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales Kirsty Brimelow QC, former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the former United Nations chief war crimes prosecutor in Sierra Leone, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, the United Kingdom’s former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and President of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, as well as prominent barristers Michael Mansfield QC and Rajiv Menon QC.

The South African judge and international jurist Justice Richard Goldstone, Canadian lawyer David Matas, Malaysian advocate and solicitor Andrew Khoo, Australian lawyer and former head of human rights in the UN in East Timor Patrick Burgess and American lawyer Jared Genser, who has represented several international figures such as Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest, China’s Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo who died earlier this year and his widow Liu Xia, and former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, are also signatories to the letter.

The lawyers note that “serious concerns over the independence of the judiciary arise” from recent events in Hong Kong, as warned by Hong Kong’s own Court of Final Appeal Judge Kemal Bokhary five years ago. “Hong Kong’s judges want to protect its independence, but they face increasing pressure from Beijing,” the letter observed.

Further Reading: Reuters, Guardian, Hong Kong Free Press

The full text of the letter is as follows:

As lawyers, we regard the imprisonment of Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law in Hong Kong as a serious threat to the rule of law and a breach of the principle of “double jeopardy” in Hong Kong – in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These student activists led the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 – one of the most peaceful public protests the world has seen. Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were already punished by a court a year ago. Joshua and Nathan respectively served 80 and 120 hours of community service, and Alex received a three-week suspended sentence. Yet the Hong Kong government decided to reopen the case and sought tougher punishments.

The law under which they were charged, the Public Order Ordinance, has been criticized by the United Nations for “facilitat[ing] excessive restrictions” to basic rights, and is incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies to Hong Kong. Human rights organisations have long urged Hong Kong to revise the ordinance to comply with the ICCPR.

Serious concerns over the independence of the judiciary arise. Court of Final Appeal judge Kemal Bokhary warned of “storm clouds” over the judiciary five years ago. Hong Kong’s judges want to protect its independence, but they face increasing pressure from Beijing. In 2014, China issued a White Paper declaring that Beijing has “comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong” – instead of “the high degree of autonomy” provided for in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution. China also announced that Hong Kong’s judges are merely “administrators” who must love the country and be "subject to oversight by the central government”. The independence of the judiciary, a pillar of Hong Kong, risks becoming a charade, at the beck and call of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic freedoms, at the heart of the principle of “one country, two systems”, now face grave threats.

Kirsty Brimelow QC

Patrick Burgess Australia – former head of human rights in the UN in East Timor and President of Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR).

Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC

Sir Desmond De Silva QC

Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC – former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Jared Genser – Freedom Now

Justice Richard Goldstone (South Africa)

Andrew Khoo (Malaysia)

David Matas (Canada)

Michael Mansfield QC

Rajiv Menon QC

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC – former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic

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