TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Hong Kong's leader on Thursday rejected claims that the city's judiciary was losing its independence after two British judges resigned from the courts in the semi-autonomous territory, citing increasingly oppressive laws enacted by mainland China.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she accepted the resignations announced Wednesday but insisted that “the rule of law has remained as robust as ever.”
“The whole thing is a political arrangement,” Lam said. “It is totally clear to all, that the British government officials and British politicians have used these means to damage our much respected independent judicial system, and I feel that this is very regrettable.”
British judges have sat on the Court of Final Appeal since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, as part of efforts to safeguard the rule of law. But Britain and other Western nations say China has reneged on its promise to retain Hong Kong's own social, legal and political systems for 50 years amid an intense crackdown on the city's institutions following sweeping anti-government protests in 2019.
Those efforts included passage of the National Security Law in 2020 and changes to the electoral system that have effectively ended political opposition in the territory.
“The courts in Hong Kong continue to be internationally respected for their commitment to the rule of law,” U.K. Supreme Court President Robert Reed said after his resignation from the Hong Kong court. “Nevertheless, I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression.”
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it strongly opposed the resignations on Thursday and echoed Lam's political accusation.
“The U.K., under the flag of upholding Hong Kong's legal system, flagrantly used political methods to interfere with and harm Hong Kong's judicial system,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.
The security law, which outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion, has been used to arrest over 100 pro-democracy figures, including the most prominent political leaders and activists.
Since the law was imposed, Hong Kong police have raided critical media outlets, such as Apple Daily, which subsequently shut down and many of its journalists were arrested.