onsdag 13. januar 2021

Hong Kong's new chief justice has vowed to uphold the city's judicial independence. Can he?

The ceremonial beginning to Hong Kong's new legal year took place, as everything does these days, over video. Sat in the city's Court of Final Appeal, wearing a black robe, ruffed white collar and white face mask, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung acknowledged the strangeness of the circumstances as he addressed a small audience of judicial officials and others watching online.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a great toll everywhere," Cheung said. "The judiciary and its operations have also been affected, and thanks must be extended to our judiciary staff who have worked so hard in such difficult circumstances to keep the courts functioning."

But Cheung, who was sworn in as Hong Kong's new top judge on Monday, will face far more challenges than just the coronavirus. He takes office amid an unprecedented challenge to the city's rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, in the wake of anti-government protests in 2019 and the subsequent national security law imposed on the city by Beijing last year. That law criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and carries with it a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.