Rule of Law - Key to Sustainable Development

On 25 November, the Chief Executive announced the 2020 Policy Address. We welcome the initiatives by the Department of Justice to create employment for the legal profession by creating more sector specific job opportunities for new comers to the profession as well as to strengthen its efforts to promote Hong Kong legal and dispute resolution services in the Greater Bay Area and along the Belt and Road. Following the provision of the Law Tech Fund to assist the legal profession to equip itself with the necessary technology, we are pleased to note that the Department of Justice is actively exploring the development of “Hong Kong Legal Cloud” to help enhance information storage for the legal sector. 

In support of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals, the Department of Justice has also launched a ten-year initiative Vision 2030 for Rule of Law (Vision 2030). 

With a common objective, it is expected that the Law Society will collaborate closely with the Department of Justice in promoting the rule of law.

Strengthening the Community’s Understanding and Practice of the Rule of Law

Rule of law has become an “overused” term these days. It is not clear whether the user knows exactly what it means. On some occasions, it appears that the term has been used simply as a slogan to justify actions.

Hong Kong has experienced highly controversial political and social issues, one after another, in recent years. Some of these controversies ended up in court. The public has wrongly expected the court to be the adjudicator of political issues. When the outcome did not align with the political stance of some people, they would publicly criticise the court decisions making blanket impulsive accusations of political bias of the judges, without any grounds. We had cases of people spraying graffiti abuses on the wall of a court building against a named judge who had apparently given the verdict of a case that was not to some people’s liking.

Just recently on 13 November, the Court granted an application against doxxing when it heard that some judges had been doxxed on social media platforms. The court heard that online posts spelt out full names of judicial officers with abusive language. They and their families received nuisance calls. The personal information of one judicial officer was even used to register for organ donation. 

Such targeted harassment to pressurise judicial officers and to influence the decision making process was, to our amazement, sometimes done under the slogan of defending the rule of law. 

In these circumstances, a proper understanding of the administration of justice and the duties and responsibilities of judges will help the public understand and appreciate more the meaning and value of the rule of law and the importance of judicial independence.

Legal professional bodies like the Law Society are in the most suitable position to educate the public on the operation of the justice system and to bring home the message that politicising the Judiciary and its functions will only damage the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. We have thus issued statements from time to time reminding the public that the proper way to handle dissatisfaction of the outcome of a judgment is to appeal or to lodge a complaint against the judge if it involves improper judicial conduct in accordance with the procedure. 

Disseminating Proper Information

Recently, a public survey was done on the public perceptions towards the rule of law in Hong Kong. One of the survey questions was on the use of channels for obtaining information about the rule of law. The highest number of respondents cited online media as the main channel used, followed by television and social media. However, the most frequently used channel does not mean that it is the most trustworthy and people do not often bother to verify.

All types of information, including unfiltered and wrong information, can conveniently and easily reach a large part of the population online. We encourage diversity in views and free discussions. But to have meaningful and constructive debates, the views, though different, must all be formed on accurate information, which must be the common starting point. 

One thing that law societies and bar associations can do is to help disseminate proper information. The Law Society will be launching a legal fact check webpage soon. The aim is to make available to the public an easily comprehensible and reliable resource of legally related information. 

As stated by the United Nations, the rule of law is the key to the successful implementation of its goals for sustainable development. Let us all make our best efforts to promote, uphold and defend the rule of law for our future generations and to ensure that there is a sustainable environment for them to flourish. 

Melissa K Pang, President

Jurisdictions

President

The Law Society of Hong Kong