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The Guardian view on the rule of law in Hong Kong: the verdict of foreign judges is damning | Editorial

The conviction of peaceful pro-democracy activists is another shameful moment in the ongoing crackdown

Seven years ago, Lord Neuberger, a judge of the Hong Kong court of final appeal – and formerly president of the UK’s supreme court – described the Chinese region’s foreign judges as “canaries in the mine”. Their willingness to serve was a sign that judicial independence remained healthy, “but if they start to leave in droves, that would represent a serious alarm call”.

That was before the extraordinary uprising in 2019 to defend Hong Kong’s autonomy, and the crackdown that followed. The draconian national security law of 2020 prompted the resignation of an Australian judge, and two British judges quit in 2022. Last week, two more birds flew: Lord Sumption and Lord Collins of Mapesbury. Lord Sumption (with other judges) had said that continued participation was in the interests of the people of Hong Kong. Now he says that those hopes of sustaining the rule of law are “no longer realistic” and that “a [once] vibrant and politically diverse community is slowly becoming a totalitarian state”. He cited illiberal legislation, Beijing’s ability to reverse decisions by Hong Kong courts and an oppressive political environment where judges are urged to demonstrate “patriotism”.

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