The Chief Justice of Hong Kong spoke of comparative jurisprudence as well as the appointment of judges in Hong Kong during a talk at the London School of Economics last Tuesday.
After an introduction by Professor Nicola Lacey, an expert on criminal law and legal theory at the LSE, the Honourable Chief Justice Mr Andrew Kwok-nang Li took centre-stage. Li, who will be retiring in September 2010, three years before the statutory retirement age, went on to outline the two main focuses of his talk: first, the jurisprudence of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, and second, the process by which judges were appointed in Hong Kong.
Li earned an LLB and an MA from Fitzwilliam College in the University of Cambridge before commencing his practice as a barrister in Hong Kong in 1973. He was subsequently appointed as Queen’s Counsel in 1988. In 1997, after the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China from the UK, Li was elevated to the position of Chief Justice by then Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa.
In the lecture, Li defended the common law system used in Hong Kong, noting its superior ability to “adapt to changing times and circumstances … and the conditions of the society.”
He went on to commend the “depoliticised” judicial appointment process in the country, vis-a-vis the appointment process in the United States which he described as being “inconsistent with Hong Kong’s constitutional arrangement.”
He also spoke out against the creation of professional bodies that would vet judicial appointments, recalling a Legislative Council decision made in 2002 that reaffirmed his views on the system.
When asked about the legal system practiced in mainland China, he said that “considerable progress” had been made, although it stlll had “some way to go”.
He also revealed that a number of judges operating in mainland China were attending courses on common law at Hong Kong University, which is the oldest tertiary institution in Hong Kong and was recently ranked 24th in the THES-QS World University Rankings.
Li especially stressed the “limited influence” of the Chinese government on the judicial process, and maintained that the “one country, two systems” principle was being effectively observed thus far.
The event was part of the LSESU Hong Kong Public Affairs & Social Service (HKPASS) Society Legal Series.