Hong Kong’s leader and two leading legal bodies have strongly condemned an “unfounded” attack on local judges by Beijing loyalists who accused them of being too lenient in granting bail to protesters and failing to hand down deterrent sentences.
In three separate statements issued on Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong rebuked the remarks by pro-Beijing group Defend Hong Kong Campaign at a rally against the judges on Thursday.
The group had also called on Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li to resign.
Lam said the rule of law and judicial independence were the core values of Hong Kong and needed to be upheld by everyone.
She said no one should exert pressure on judges and courts, or make personal attacks on them.
The barristers’ group also condemned the attack, saying: “The Hong Kong Bar Association deplores any attack on the judiciary or any of its members.”
While the public have the freedom to rationally debate judicial rulings, the barristers’ group said there was no justification for exerting pressure on judges, and warned it could “constitute interference with judicial proceedings and contempt of court”.
In a similar strongly-worded statement, the Law Society, which represents practising solicitors, stressed the courts were always tasked to adjudicate a case impartially based on the law, “whatever the nature of the controversy and whoever the parties may be”.
“We strongly condemn the unfounded comments that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations, which are unjustified and damaging to our legal system, and to Hong Kong as a whole,” it said in the statement.
Pro-Beijing protesters and mainland Chinese scholars have questioned local courts for granting bail to convicted protesters, but the Bar Association said Hong Kong’s magistrates were merely following the law.
Under Hong Kong’s Criminal Procedure Ordinance, the accused’s right to bail is denied only when there is a risk of fleeing, committing the offence again or interfering with prosecution witnesses.
“Judges and magistrates do not have a general discretion to refuse bail,” the association said.
“The bail decision-making process is structured, fair and blind to extraneous considerations, such as politics, nationality, sex or race.”
Of the more than 1,300 people arrested since protests against the extradition bill – which the city’s leader has announced will be withdrawn – erupted in early June, at least 191 have been charged with offences ranging from assaulting a police officer to rioting. Among those charged, 164 have been granted bail.
City’s judges have become a new target of hardline tabloid the Global Times and local pro-government people. The Beijing newspaper questioned the city’s bail system in at least two pieces over past weeks, and portrayed the criminal justice system as “police arresting people, judges letting them go”.
About 100 activists of Defend Hong Kong Campaign held a rally outside the Court of Final Appeal in Central on Thursday and waved the Chinese flag, while criticising the city’s trial judges for “helping” the arrested by granting them bail.
The Department of Justice also strongly condemned the accusations on Thursday, stressing that judges always adhered to the law and evidence before them.
“Some may not like the outcome but it does not mean that the independence of the judiciary is in any way compromised,” the department said.
“The community should not make any arbitrary or unfair criticisms which seek to undermine the integrity or impartiality of the judiciary.”
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