In handing down her sentence, Magistrate Winnie Lau said that while “an egg is not a weapon of mass destruction,” the launching of such items at a police station provoked “discontent” with the force, undermined police actions by officers. and endangered society, according to public broadcaster RTHK.
The sheer number of prosecutions, as well as the pressure for harsh sentences, has put judges in a delicate position, particularly as Beijing has tightened its grip on the semi-autonomous city this year. In July, Chinese authorities introduced a national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing the city legislature to criminalize secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Judges who consider themselves too lenient or sympathetic to protesters have received criticism from Chinese state media and pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong. Writing in the state-run China Daily in September, one commentator said that “in theory, judges should not take political sides in a court of law, but in Hong Kong many members of the public now view some judges as ‘yellow judges’ who practice political favoritism for criminals in the opposition camp. “
In a statement this week, the Hong Kong Bar Association said it “deplores the unreasonable and unbridled attacks against the judiciary and members of the judiciary” and urged the media to stop speculating on the political beliefs of the judges. .
Some judges have also been criticized for showing alleged prejudice against protesters. In May, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma removed District Court Judge Kwok Wai-kin from the protest cases after he described a man who had stabbed three people on a “Lennon wall” in favor of the democracy as a “victim” whose livelihood had been affected by the people “behaving like terrorists.”
“Judges have a responsibility under the Basic Law, which is owed to the community, to exercise independent judiciary by trying cases fairly and impartially, without fear or favor,” Ma said in a statement.
Hong Kong has long valued its independent judiciary and rule of law, characteristics that distinguish the city from mainland China, where the courts are subject to the whims of the ruling Communist Party, and about 99 percent of cases are terminated. in a guilty verdict.
More than a million March in Hong Kong
This independence has become even more important as political dissent has been increasingly restricted by the new security law. Last week, the entire democratic opposition resigned from the city legislature after the Beijing authorities decided to expel several lawmakers.
Meanwhile, RTHK reported on Thursday that the Hong Kong government would soon require all public officials to swear allegiance.
And there are signs that Hong Kong may also be moving towards a more politicized judicial system. Since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, during which large numbers of mostly young people demonstrated in support of greater political representation, the government has been accused of waging a “legal war” against activists and protesters, sparking a large number of prosecutions and required harsh penalties. The Beijing government has also intervened in several cases in recent years, wielding constitutional power previously rarely used to rewrite the city’s laws.
Earlier this month, Zhang Xiaoming, one of the top Chinese officials in Hong Kong, said that “reforms” were needed for the city’s judiciary, and that “the word” patriotism “should be added before the core values of Hong Kong. democracy, freedom and human rights defended by Hong Kong society. “
“We must uphold the city’s rule of law, but we must also safeguard the national constitutional order,” Zhang said, adding that many “problems” had been exposed in the city’s de facto constitution that needed to be addressed.
During her annual policy address on Wednesday, Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam said the national security law was already having the desired effect.
The law had been “remarkably effective in restoring stability in Hong Kong,” he said, and had put an end to the protests.
Lam added that the city’s Justice Department “will continue to show that Hong Kong remains a neutral and effective international legal center,” but also announced a new bill that will allow local courts to “deal” with lawmakers who may break The oath. process when taking the oath as legislators.
The national security law has already greatly modified the judicial system, creating specialized courts to hear sensitive cases and allowing some defendants to be transferred to the mainland for trial.
In September, a veteran Australian judge resigned from the city’s Final Appeal Court. James Spigelman, who did not respond to a request for comment, told ABC at the time that his decision was “related to the content of national security legislation.”
Many distinguished foreign jurists sit at the CFA as non-permanent judges, bringing legal experience and a glow of independence to the court, long regarded as the last bulwark against pressure from Beijing.
However, that may change as a result of the law. Chinese officials previously expressed skepticism about whether foreign judges could be trusted to hear national security cases, while in a report this month, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had initiated consultations on whether it was appropriate that UK judges continue to serve on the court. .
“Hong Kong’s independent judiciary is the cornerstone of its economic success and lifestyle,” Raab wrote. “The National Security Law establishes that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, instead of the Chief Justice, shall appoint judges to hear national security cases. In addition to the provisions of the National Security Law that allow the authorities of the mainland take jurisdiction over certain cases without independent oversight, and to try such cases in Chinese courts, this move clearly runs the risk of undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary. “
He added that London will “closely monitor the use of this requirement, including its implications for the role of UK judges in the Hong Kong judicial system.”