Hong Kong’s judiciary has dismissed suggestions that the appointment of a magistrate to an administrative post at the High Court is linked to complaints by the pro-establishment camp over his recent rulings in cases related to anti-government protests.
In a statement on Tuesday, it sought to reassure that judges applied the law without political consideration when handling cases.
Stanley Ho Chun-yiu, a magistrate at Eastern Court, was appointed as a temporary deputy registrar of the High Court, serving from September 18 to June 17 next year, the statement said. The appointment was made in July.
Ho would not need to hear cases in the court and his new duties would include assisting with the listing and procedural matters of criminal cases.
The posting also means a pay rise. A magistrate’s salary ranges from about HK$136,000 (US$17,500) to more than HK$163,000 (US$21,000) a month. In his new role, Ho will earn between about HK$212,000 (US$27,400) and HK$225,000 (US$29,000).
“Magistrate Ho’s posting is made for normal operational purposes and is not connected with either the … complaints [against him] or recent events,” the judiciary said.
Ho was engulfed in a storm of criticism last month, especially from the pro-establishment camp, after he blasted two police officers for “using a lie to cover up another lie” as he acquitted Eastern district councillor Jocelyn Chau Hui-yan of assaulting a policeman during a protest last year.
Days later, he acquitted a protester – on whom police found an electric grinder, unlicensed intercom and hammer – of a weapons charge.
The pro-establishment bloc had accused him of bias.
“It is neither appropriate nor possible to comment on bare assertions that cases have been handled in the courts by judges with political considerations in mind,” the judiciary said.
It cited the Judicial Oath, which all judges must take, that “it is their duty to serve in full accordance with the law, safeguard the law and administer justice without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit”.
“This means that judges only apply the law, without extraneous factors such as political considerations,” it said, adding that Article 92 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, also states that judges shall be chosen on the basis of their judicial and professional qualities.
As for the complaints against Ho, the judiciary said: “There have so far been a large number of complaints of similar or identical nature made against [the magistrate]. They are being handled in accordance with established procedures and the judiciary will not comment on such complaints for the time being.”
Pro-establishment legislator Holden Chow Ho-ding, also a lawyer, said he respected judicial independence but there was nothing wrong with making critical comments on judgments and verdicts after rulings were handed down. He called for the establishment of a Sentencing Council, with various sectors represented, to offer guidelines to judges.
But Dennis Kwok, of the opposition Civic Party, rejected Chow’s suggestion, warning: “The outcome would be that the judges are told what to do by a group of people with political considerations in mind.”
Kwok also said the pro-establishment camp had systematically made critical comments against judges they did not like with the aim of damaging the judiciary’s image.
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