The British Foreign Office released its twice-annual report on Hong Kong Monday, in which Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested removing British judges from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. This is the most recent step in the deterioration of Sino-British relations over the status of Hong Kong since the 1997 handover of the former British colony to the Chinese government.
The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal is the final appellate court of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, which maintains its own judiciary under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy instituted after the handover. The court is composed of one permanent Chief Justice, a handful of permanent judges, and up to 30 temporary judges. Temporary judges in this court often come from other Commonwealth jurisdictions and currently include judges from Australia, the UK and Canada
The proposal from the British Foreign Office comes after Hong Kong adopted its National Security Law in June of this year. This law included provisions such as the extradition of certain criminal defendants to the Chinese mainland. Foreign governments, including the UK, expressed concern that this would undermine the independent Hong Kong court system. If the UK were to remove its judges from the Hong Kong bench, this would indicate more trouble ahead for the court system.
An independent judiciary is especially important to Hong Kong as one of East Asia’s major business hubs. Hong Kong is home to more than 1,500 foreign business regional offices. Moreover, the World Bank’s influential Ease of Doing Business Score heavily weights considerations such as contract enforcement, protection of minority investors, property rights, and business startup that rely on an independent judiciary.