Two top legal bodies in Hong Kong have jointly condemned graffiti painted outside a court, calling the act in which a judge was targeted “outrageous” and refuting suggestions that court rulings were politically influenced.
A day after Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam had her name scribbled on the outer walls of the High Court by vandals, the Bar Association and Law Society deplored the “criminal act” in a statement.
“The graffiti is outrageous and firmly condemned,” it said on Thursday, describing the act as “an affront to the rule of law and judicial integrity”.
Pang’s name in Chinese was painted outside the High Court in Admiralty on New Year’s Day, along with the accusation calling her a “judge with red background”, a colour associated with Beijing.
The incident was one of many acts of vandalism on Wednesday as an approved march by the Civil Human Rights Front was cut short by police amid protest violence.
Hong Kong has been roiled by an anti-government movement since last June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
While the city’s courts have been mostly left untouched by radical protesters, the judiciary has come under increasing criticism in recent months from camps on both sides of the political spectrum over rulings involving protests.
Pro-democracy activists have accused the courts of favouring the government in cases, while pro-establishment supporters and Beijing have demanded that the courts come down hard on protesters.
Apart from the incident on Wednesday, there have been two other cases in recent months in which the entrances of court buildings came under arson attacks.
Po was the judge who sentenced pro-independence activist Edward Leung Tin-kei to six years in jail for rioting in the Mong Kok unrest of 2016, although the guilty verdict was returned by a jury of nine.
In the joint statement on Thursday, the Bar Association and Law Society wrote: “Abusive comments implying that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations are wholly unjustified.
“Any attempt to insult, threaten and bring public pressure on a judge because of decisions made in the course of performing judicial duties is to be deplored as an affront to the rule of law and judicial integrity.”
The two bodies urged the public to first turn to the reasoning in court judgments to understand cases. They could also challenge a court’s decision through appeals.
Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes SC said people might disagree with the court or even think it was biased. But they should not resort to such attacks.
“If court buildings are vandalised, then that is a sort of reflection that people have no respect for the law,” he said, urging the public to file complaints in more civilised ways such as writing to a newspaper, if they wanted to make their dissatisfaction public.
If court buildings are vandalised, then that is a sort of reflection that people have no respect for the law
Philip Dykes, Bar Association chairman
He said the remarks would not amount to contempt of court, which required extremely outrageous attacks on judges, whereas the vandalism was an act of criminal damage.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC, a member of the Executive Council, which advises the city’s leader, said: “I believe our judges are robust enough to stand up against such unworthy tactics.”
In an interview published on Wednesday Hong Kong time in the National Post, a daily newspaper in Canada, retired local chief justice Beverly McLachlin – who recently completed a stint as a non-permanent judge in the city – defended Hong Kong’s courts.
“The [Hong Kong] court is independent,” she was quoted as saying. “The law is very rigorously applied. It’s a very high level of judging.”
Hong Kong Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li declined to comment when asked about the High Court vandalism on Thursday.
A spokesman for the judiciary said it would not comment as the incident was under police investigation, but added that judicial officers would remain impartial and unbiased when adjudicating cases.