GBA rule of law action plan released

2024 legal year opens

The ceremonial opening of the legal year 2024 was held at City Hall today.


In his opening remarks, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung stressed that when a court makes an unpopular or even a wrong decision, it does not follow that the justice system or the Judiciary are malfunctioning or that they require reform.


He cautioned against a failure to distinguish between judges personally and their decisions or reasoning.


“Criticising the judge’s decision or reasons is one thing; questioning the judge’s integrity or professional impartiality is quite another. Likewise, a failure to separate a court decision from the Judiciary as an institution is not helpful to the well-being of the common law system.”


He also criticised threats of sanction or reprisal against judges for simply discharging their judicial duties.


“Judges must be able to decide cases and explain their decisions in judgments without interference or illegitimate pressure. This is of cardinal importance to judicial independence. Threats of sanction or reprisal against judges for simply discharging their judicial duties are, therefore, repugnant to the rule of law and fundamentally objectionable.”


The Chief Justice also highlighted that in the past few years, the work of the Judiciary has often been viewed through the prism of the National Security Law. He said that this has tended to result in a narrow or even distorted picture of judicial work, and more generally of the state of the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong.


“But whatever may be said or written about our legal system, of this the community can be sure: our courts and our judges will continue to discharge their constitutional duty to administer justice fairly and efficiently, without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit. This, too, is essential to the continuation of the common law system in Hong Kong.”


Mr Cheung also mentioned that the e-litigation platform has already been smoothly implemented in most District Court civil proceedings as well as in summons cases in the Magistrates’ Courts. Its extension to other levels of courts, most importantly the High Court level, is scheduled for this year.


Separately, the new District Court Complex in Causeway Bay will be completed and open for use by 2027, while preliminary planning and design work on the new High Court Complex will start very soon, Mr Cheung said.


The Queensway Government Offices site adjacent to the existing High Court Building will be reserved for construction of the new High Court Complex. 


Also speaking at the event, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam emphasised that there is no evidence that the Judiciary’s independent judicial power has been compromised in cases involving national security.


“All court hearings relating to national security are, generally speaking, held openly,” he said. “More importantly, all decisions and judgments made by the court in this respect are publicised on the Judiciary’s website, which is accessible for free.”


Mr Lam said the real problem is that many people have not bothered to follow court proceedings and study the reasons for decisions and judgments before passing their own judgments.


“For any reasonable and objective bystander who is eager to seek the truth, he or she will not see one iota of evidence that the Judiciary's independent judicial power has been compromised in cases involving national security.”


He reiterated the Government’s resolve to protect judges and judicial officers.


“I wish to make it very clear that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government will do its best and take whatever measures (are) within its powers to ensure that judges and judicial officers will be able to perform their judicial functions without fear (of) intimidation.”