A Hong Kong judge has extended a temporary ban on the doxxing and harassing of judicial officers and their families, after hearing the unlawful activity continued even after the prohibition was put in place two weeks ago.
High Court Justice Russell Coleman on Friday accepted there was “a serious issue to be tried” in light of “widespread doxxing activities” against judicial officers which could seriously erode public confidence in law and order, as well as the administration of justice if left unchecked.
But the judge also had criticism for the Secretary for Justice, who he said had failed to defend the city’s court officials against “wrong accusations”.
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The High Court heard that officers including judges and registrars had been doxxed on social media platforms such as Telegram and the Reddit-like site LIHKG, over their handling of cases stemming from last year’s anti-government protests.
Typical criticisms saw the officers labelled “Pro-China Pro-Communist” or told to “Support Hong Kong Police”, with some online posts suggesting they should “die of bad fortune”.
They and their families were also said to have received frequent nuisance calls, with the personal information of one judicial officer used to register him for organ donation.
Even after the temporary ban began on October 30, the personal particulars of a judge said to have handled cases related to the city’s controversial national security law were published on a website called Hong Kong Chronicles, a platform also used to dox police.
In granting the Department of Justice’s application, Coleman said a strong public interest called for “a prompt and firm response” to clamp down on any attempts to cause fear to, or to seek favour from, judicial officers.
“That is not because any judge or judicial officer is likely to act with fear or favour, but because there must be no perception that he or she might so act,” Coleman said. “It would be detrimental to the rule of law were the public to perceive that doxxing activities might have that effect.”
The judge, however, criticised the secretary for justice for failing to defend the judiciary in a prompt manner against unfair accusations, especially when judicial officers did not traditionally speak out to defend themselves.
“In common law jurisdictions like Hong Kong, it is the tradition that the minister responsible for the administration of justice has the duty of defending the judiciary or individual judges against wrong accusations,” Coleman said.
“However, it seems that, unfortunately, that tradition is in decline and is not now always promptly honoured.”
In his 20-page judgment, Coleman also touched upon the hotly debated issue of separation of powers in Hong Kong, saying an independent judiciary was guaranteed under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, a fact which could not be altered by “a somewhat sterile debate about labels”.
“It can be noted that the phrase ‘separation of powers’ does not appear in the Basic Law text, neither does the phrase ‘executive-led’,” the judge said in response to the government’s description of Hong Kong’s governing system, which was recently reiterated by city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
“Whatever label is used to describe the Hong Kong system, no judge or judicial officer is ‘led’ by any member of the executive.”
The interim injunction, which will last until further notice, targets acts of “intimidating, molesting, harassing, threatening or pestering” a list of protected individuals that includes 41 categories of judicial officers ranging from the chief justice to magistrates, registrars and those presiding over various specialised tribunals.
The court order also requires those committing the prohibited behaviour to take all necessary steps to withdraw published data from the public domain. A violation of the order may result in civil contempt of court, punishable by imprisonment.
The injunction will not prohibit any lawful acts done solely for the purpose of “news activity”, as defined by the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.