Australian James Spigelman resigns as judge of Hong Kong appeals court over new national security law

Australian James Spigelman resigns as judge of Hong Kong appeals court over new national security law
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Distinguished Australian former judge James Spigelman has resigned from Hong Kong’s top appeals court as Beijing intensifies its crackdown on the semi-autonomous city.

The Chinese Government has introduced contentious new security laws which are designed to punish dissent and stifle advocacy of democracy or independence in Hong Kong.

Mr Spigelman told the ABC that he resigned for reasons “related to the content of the national security legislation” but did not elaborate further.

A Hong Kong Government announcement published on Friday said his position was “revoked” earlier this month, but did not provide any reasons why.

A statement from the Hong Kong Government provided to the ABC later said that Mr Spigelman “tendered to the Chief Executive on 2 September his resignation as a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal”.

“Therefore the Chief Executive revoked his appointment in accordance with the relevant legislation.

Mr Spigelman’s resignation came the day after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters that the city did not have any meaningful separation of powers between the legislature, executive branch and judiciary.

Ms Lam also emphasised that the Chinese Government in Beijing retained ultimate authority over Hong Kong.

Those comments stoked fear in Hong Kong’s judiciary, which was already anxious about the rapid erosion of the rule of law under the new security laws.

The Court of Final Appeal was established after the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese Government, and employs several non-permanent judges from Commonwealth nations.

Former Australian High Court chief justices Robert French and Murray Gleeson, as well as former High Court judge William Gummow, are still serving on the Hong Kong court.

While its jurisdiction is limited, it remains the last avenue of appeal for litigants in the city, which has been rocked by turmoil over Beijing’s crackdown.

Beijing legislated the new national security law after ongoing pro-democracy protests.(Reuters: Thomas Peter)

One Hong Kong lawyer told the ABC that the court could become embroiled in political controversy as it might preside over the trials of protesters and dissidents arrested under the new legislation.

Australia has joined several other Western nations condemning the new national security law, calling it a flagrant breach of the “One Country Two Systems” model agreed to by China when the UK relinquished control of the territory.

Mr Spigelman had a long career on the New South Wales bench, serving as the state’s chief justice for 13 years. He was also chairman of the ABC until 2017.

He had served on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal since 2013 as a non-permanent judge. His current term was not due to expire until 2022.

Mr Spigelman’s resignation has prompted speculation that other foreign judges might follow in his wake and quit the court.

But former High Court justice Robert French told the ABC he would stay in the position.

“I have the greatest admiration for the chief justice and other permanent justices of that court and for their commitment to maintaining its judicial independence,” he said.

“My continuance in office is a reflection of my support for their commitment and my belief in their capacity to give effect to it. I would not continue if I believed otherwise.”



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