World News

Foreign judge quits Hong Kong's top court, cites national security law concerns

HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) - One of the 14 foreign judges on Hong Kong’s highest court said he had resigned due to concerns over a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing on the former British colony, Australia’s national broadcaster reported on Friday.

The office of the city’s leader Carrie Lam confirmed the resignation of Australian judge James Spigelman but did not give a reason.

Spigelman, the former Chief Justice of New South Wales, is the first senior judge to resign and publicly criticise the law, passed by China’s parliament.

The Polish-born jurist told the ABC that he resigned for reasons “related to the content of the national security legislation” but did not elaborate further.

Spigelman did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

His departure comes amid alarm in local and international legal circles at Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on the freewheeling financial hub, which boasts an independent legal system based on the common law.

Under the security legislation, Lam has the right to select judges for a panel of jurists to handle national security cases. In the most serious cases, suspects can also be taken to mainland China for trial in its courts that are ultimately controlled by the Communist Party.

“Mr Justice Spigelman tendered to the Chief Executive on 2 September his resignation as a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal, therefore the Chief Executive revoked his appointment in accordance with the relevant legislation,” Lam’s office responded in an email to queries about his departure.

“Mr Justice Spigelman did not give any reason for his resignation,” it said. A spokesman for the Judiciary said they had no further comment to offer.

Spigelman was re-appointed to another three-year term on the Hong Kong court last year.

Foreign judges have long been considered a symbol of Hong Kong’s judicial independence, helping to replace traditional role of the Privy Council in London after Britain handed the city back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Reporting By Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore