HONGKONG – British judge Brenda Hale will step down from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal next month when her three-year term expires, the city’s judiciary said on Friday.
The departure of Hale, a former president of Britain’s Supreme Court, comes amid international concern at the pressures on Hong Kong’s independent judiciary under a national security law.
She is one of 13 overseas non-permanent judges on the court – a presence that has long been seen as a symbol of the city’s rule of law after Britain handed its former colony back to China in 1997.
The Hong Kong Judiciary said in a statement that Hale “has
indicated to the Judiciary that for personal reasons she would not wish to have her appointment” extended for another term.
Hale, 76, was quoted in London’s The Times newspaper on Friday as telling an online forum that the national security law – imposed by China’s parliament last June – had left “all sorts of question marks up in the air”.
“The jury is still out on how they will be able to operate the national security law,” she was quoted as saying. She said her main reason for quitting was COVID-19 travel restrictions that meant she could not travel easily to Hong Kong.
Hale could not immediately be reached for comment.
The security law gives Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam the power to select judges for a roster of jurists that will handle national security cases. In the most serious cases suspects can also be taken to mainland China for trial.
Australian judge James Spigelman resigned last September, citing the law in a comment to Australia’s national broadcaster. Other foreign judges have extended their terms or joined the court.
Lam appointed Hale in 2018 together with former Canadian Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin as the first women to serve on the top court.