As of 22 September 2020, according to the statistics of the World Health Organisation (“WHO”), there have been 31,174,627 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including 962,613 deaths, and 222,256 new daily cases. These statistics are daunting. Unless and until we have a safe and efficacious vaccine, lockdowns and other measures to contain the spread of the pandemic and the consequential disruption to the global economy and people’s daily lives continue to lurk in the shadows. Further, unsettling news like wildfires of gigantic scale and widespread protests and unrest stemming from social conflicts in different parts of the world have filled the headlines in the past months.
It is at these times of adversity that we must stay composed and motivated, and double our effort to fulfil our roles and responsibilities in society to overcome the challenges.
According to the WHO, almost 200 vaccines for COVID-19 are currently being developed and tested. While the medical experts are working hard to combat the pandemic, the general public also have an important role in helping to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the community by, for instance, avoiding crowded places, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and seeking medical assistance immediately for any COVID symptoms.
For legal practitioners, our professional training equips us with a deep knowledge of the substantive law and legal developments and a clear understanding of the functions of law in society. The core values embraced by the legal profession, namely, independence of the Judiciary, equality before the law and respect for fundamental human rights are intrinsic to the training of a lawyer.
Such unique training not only prepares legal practitioners to uphold our duties and responsibilities to clients, but also to fulfil a critical role in society to defend the rule of law, maintain the fair administration of justice and facilitate true access to justice. Notwithstanding the disruptions caused by the pandemic and social conflicts, we must not be distracted from our effort to fulfil our important role in society. Promotion of a proper understanding of the rule of law and defending it whenever there are attempts to undermine it or unfairly criticise it is a life-long mission of every legal practitioner.
Recently, public criticisms based on allegations that the courts took into political considerations when adjudicating certain cases have been widely reported in the media. To defend judicial independence as a fundamental aspect of the rule of law, the Law Society issued a public statement (http://www.hklawsoc.org.hk/pub_e/news/press/20200922.asp) on 22 September reiterating that the task of the courts is to adjudicate impartially on the legal and factual issues involved in a particular case according to the law, whatever the nature of the controversy and whoever the parties may be. There are established avenues to challenge a court decision if one is dissatisfied with the outcome or the way it has been handled, and to complain against a judge’s conduct. Judicial integrity should not and can never be undermined or compromised or be dragged into the political arena by unfounded comments that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations.
As stated in the press release (https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202009/23/P2020092300435.htm) by the Chief Justice on 23 September, levelling criticisms against judges and the courts without being informed, and without proper grounds and reasons is wrong and detrimental to public confidence in the administration of justice. Politicisation of the Judiciary and its functions must stop immediately.
Every legal practitioner is duty bound to educate those around them in the well-established principles governing the administration of justice in Hong Kong. We enjoy a constitutional guarantee of the principle that our judges are to exercise judicial power independently and free from any interference. Article 2 of the Basic Law provides that the National People’s Congress authorises Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law. Article 80 of the Basic Law provides that our courts at all levels shall be the judiciary, exercising the judicial power of Hong Kong and that such judicial power, according to Article 85, is to be exercised independently, free from any interference.
Further, it is worth reminding each other time and again that we have come a long way to achieve what we have today. The world-renowned reputation of a strong and independent Judiciary in Hong Kong is hard earned and we must do our utmost to protect it.
Melissa K Pang, President