London: The United Kingdom’s government is mulling whether it is appropriate for British judges to continue to sit in Hong Kong’s top court, following the two “substantive” breaches of international law by China through the imposition of national security law and the disqualification of elected legislators.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had started the discussion with the Lord chancellor and the president of the UK’s Supreme Court, Lord Reed, on the British judges who sit on Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal, Al Jazeera reported.
“This has been, and continues to be, the most concerning period in Hong Kong’s post-handover history,” Raab wrote in the UK’s latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong, which covers the six months until June 30, as well as more recent developments.
Raab has noted that there had been two “substantive” breaches of international law in relation to Hong Kong and the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which laid out the terms of the territory’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.
According to him, the first one is the imposition of National security law on June 30, legislation which punishes acts of secession, sedition, subversion and collusion with foreign powers with a life sentence.
The second was the Beijing unveiling of new rules for disqualification of elected Hong Kong legislators. The government has disqualified four pro-democracy representatives.
“Hong Kong’s high level of autonomy and rights and freedoms are enshrined in the Joint Declaration,” Raab said. “However, Beijing’s decisions to impose the National Security Law and then, a few months later, to disqualify elected legislators, represent two substantive breaches of the Joint Declaration in just five months. This calls into serious question China’s commitment to the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework.”
Hong Kong was a British colony for over 150 years until its return to China in 1997.
At the time of handover, it was decided that two judges of the UK would sit on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, in order the show Britain’s continuing commitment to safeguarding the rule of law in Hong Kong.
The court also includes retired judges from the UK and from other common law jurisdictions, including Australia and Canada.
Lord Reed is currently the only serving UK judge on the court.
Meanwhile, Britain has already moved to allow millions of Hong Kong people path to settlement and UK citizenship. It also suspended its treaty with Hong Kong and widened its China arms embargo to include Hong Kong.
The Five Eyes, which is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, has time and again condemned the Chinese government over its actions in Hong Kong.
Last week, it expressed its serious concerns regarding China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong and called on Beijing to reconsider their actions and stop undermining the rights of the people of the city to elect their representatives.
China also condemned the British criticism of Hong Kong developments, accusing the UK of meddling in China’s internal affairs and undermining “one country, two systems” by its offer of a path to citizenship for some Hong Kong people.