The integrity of the justice system is fiercely defended in Hong Kong. The protests that engulfed the city last year began on a proposal many saw as potentially undermining local courts, by allowing extraditions to mainland China.
In addition to enforcing the national security law, Communist Party officials and state newspapers in the city are pushing for even more control. In a continuing series, Ta Kung Pao, a newspaper owned by the Chinese government’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, demanded that the judges be patriotic. He called for the creation of a council to set the length of sentences, an external committee to deal with complaints about judges and a more thorough review of the process for selecting judges.
“Beijing understands that this is an area that people will be very sensitive to and the international community will take care of,” said Eric Cheung, a lawyer at the University of Hong Kong. “Beijing may not want to be seen as interfering with judicial independence, but I think it’s very clear that some Beijing officials are not happy with certain decisions made by our judges.
Even before the protests and the security law, Beijing had significant judicial oversight. When China took Hong Kong back from Britain in 1997, the ultimate authority for the interpretation of its laws was transferred to Beijing.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the official legislature of China, has the power to interpret the Basic Law, the local constitution of Hong Kong. Several of his decisions went against the city’s pro-democracy camp. The committee’s interpretation of the swearing-in in 2016 paved the way for the impeachment of six pro-democracy lawmakers who protested during their swearing-in ceremonies.
The security law has further restricted the city’s courts. It allows certain cases, such as those involving foreign forces or imminent threats, to be tried on the continent. Under the law, Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam will appoint judges for trials on national security charges.