Former chief justice McLachlin says she'll stay on Hong Kong court despite crackdown on human rights

Canada's former top judge says she intends to stay on Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal despite government threats to civil liberties in the region.

Two British judges resigned from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal over threats to civil liberties

Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, says she'll stay on Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal despite the threats to human rights in the region. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Canada's former top judge says she intends to stay on Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal despite government threats to civil liberties in the region.

Beverley McLachlin, who served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada from 2000 to 2017, told CBC's Power & Politics she renewed her position as a non-permanent judge on the court last year because she believes the court is still independent.

Two British judges resigned from that court earlier this year, citing the threat to civil liberties in Hong Kong posed by China's national security law, which Beijing imposed on the region in 2020.

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"The court is completely independent of the regime in Hong Kong." Former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin says she is '100 % satisfied' that in her role as a non-permanent judge on Hong Kong's highest court, she is not "doing anything negative to prop up that regime."

McLachlin told CBC News the court has been free of interference so far from the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government.

"The court is completely independent and functioning in the way I am used [to] in Canada the courts functioning," McLachlin told host Vassy Kapelos.

"There's no governmental influence, and if there were, I wouldn't be there."

When asked about the resignations of her former colleagues, McLachlin pointed to other judges who have chosen to stay.

Right now, McLachlin is one of 10 non-permanent overseas judges on the court, which is the final appellate court in the region's legal system. The court was established in 1997 as part of an agreement between the United Kingdom and China.

The resignation of the two British judges, Lord Patrick Hodge and Lord Robert Reed, was hailed by the U.K. government and condemned by Beijing.

McLachlin said if the remaining justices were to resign, it would send "the wrong signal."

"What Hong Kong needs, and the bar tells us they need, is that court to remain in place, to remain independent and to remain strong," she said.

"Technically, at least, the Hong Kong government is independent of the central [Chinese] government, and so far they have committed to supporting an independent court. So we'll see what happens."

McLachlin added she's confident the court still has a role to play in promoting democracy in Hong Kong. She said she hopes that governments in Hong Kong and China will respect any court rulings on the national security law.

McLachlin wouldn't say whether she considers the national security law a bad law, adding she may have to rule on it eventually.

She said she would leave the court if its rulings aren't upheld.

"I don't see myself sitting on a court whose rulings are not respected, no," she said.

Asked about McLachlin's position at a news conference Thursday morning, current Chief Justice Richard Wagner wouldn't comment.

"This is a very personal decision that belongs to former chief justice McLachlin," Wagner said.

"I don't have the habit of commenting on my former colleagues post-judicial career, so I will not comment on that. I think that's a personal decision."


Richard Raycraft

Web writer and producer

Richard is a web writer with CBC News and an associate producer with CBC Radio. He's worked at CBC in London, Ont., Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.


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