Judges, legal community do our rule of law proud

Updated: 2017-08-24 07:12

By Alex Lo(HK Edition)

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Alex Lo explains why HK is fortunate to have judges who are courageous enough to uphold the rule of law, while exposing the hypocrisy of those - near and far - who criticize them

The rule of law and an independent judiciary are the bedrock of Hong Kong's legal system. Yet those who speak loudest about protecting such core values have now become their greatest enemies. These people are some of the city's most prominent opposition politicians, radicalized localists, editorialists of such august Western publications as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and some politicians in the United States Congress.

They only defend the judiciary when the latter delivers judgments which they themselves favor or suit their political agendas but would not think twice about undermining and slandering our independent courts and our judges when they rule against them or their allies.

Cases in point: The jailing of three student leaders for their role in inciting the violent storming of the government headquarters that triggered the "Occupy" protests of 2014; and the earlier imprisonment of 13 protesters for unlawful assembly over a controversial government development project in the New Territories.

From the protestations of their defenders, you would think those jailed are being put away for a long time. In fact, even after their sentences were toughened on appeal, the longest is no more than 13 months. The most well-known among them - Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang - will only serve six to eight months.

Among the busybody commentators are 25 international figures including former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, US congressman Christopher Smith, Canadian MP Garnett Genuis and former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.

Without any evidence to support its claims, a bipartisan US congressional panel has blasted both cases as "political prosecutions intended to curtail freedom of speech". Labour Party unionist and former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who might have the decency to explain the tricky legal situation to ignorant and biased outsiders, heartily quoted the panel's official statement on his Facebook page.

It's hardly surprising, though. Lee and several leaders of the Democratic Party put Howard Lam Tsz-kin in front of the cameras for his bizarre and now discredited allegations of abduction and torture by mainland agents. The Editorial Board of The New York Times, however, appeared not to know about Lam's arrest and charges for misleading police when it cited his case - along with Wong, Law and Chow - as evidence of Hong Kong losing its freedoms under China. But it's only typical of how these so-called champions of democracy and free speech hastened to lambast any legal judgment that went against their media darlings without doing the elementary fact-checking any cub reporter should do before putting pen to paper.

Fortunately, there are still upstanding and knowledgeable people who are in a position to defend Hong Kong and its judiciary. These are the judges of the High Court, and leaders of the Bar Association and the Law Society, which together represent all the city's lawyers.

In a rare joint statement, the two legal groups defended the Court of Appeal's ruling on the three student protesters. They expressed "great concern" that some local and international media have voiced unfounded criticism against the court. People may agree or disagree with the ruling, but the fact of the matter is that all three were accorded due process and given proper legal representation.

The court's independence and integrity should never have been questioned, as the judges conducted themselves strictly on established legal principles and procedures, according to the joint statement. Yet, some opposition leaders and foreign critics still claim the High Court was influenced by political considerations.

In fact, the well-reasoned judgment - 60-plus pages long - contains some of the sharpest and most astute commentaries on freedom and its abuse by radical activists and opposition politicians today.

In exercising freedom, the judges noted, there is nevertheless no excuse for breaking the law, even if you think you are pursuing selfless ideals. Yet, there has been a recent "unhealthy trend" in which educated people advocated unlawful acts in the name of civil disobedience.

"These people openly despise the rule of law," the judgment read. "Not only do they refuse to admit their law-breaking behavior is wrong, they even see their acts as something to be proud of."

As the judges have warned, "this arrogant and self-righteous thinking" has affected young people and encouraged them to disrupt public order and threaten other people's safety.

The jailing of the activists, though imposed with lenient sentences, is calculated to send a message to people who may mean well but do not understand the damage they can inflict on society by committing unlawful acts. Perhaps spending a little time alone in a cell would encourage our young activists to reflect on their actions. Instead, they are being glorified by some politicians with their own agendas and foreigners with questionable motives. Sadly, that will just feed on their "arrogant and self-righteous thinking" to make them think they are being martyrs to the cause.

Be that as it may, Hong Kong is fortunate still to have judges who are forthright and courageous enough to withstand the storm and stress caused by the deeply divided state of our society and unhelpful interference from outsiders under the most distorted and hypocritical excuses.

The author is a veteran commentator and journalist from Hong Kong.

Judges, legal community do our rule of law proud

(HK Edition 08/24/2017 page8)