A high-profile British judge who resigned from Hong Kong’s highest court last week has warned the city is “slowly becoming a totalitarian state” and judges are being compromised by an “impossible political environment created by China”.

Lord Sumption’s comments on Monday came as a third senior foreign judge in the past week resigned from the Court of Final Appeal.

“The problem in Hong Kong has been building up over the last four years and I think all the judges on the court feel concerned about this,” Lord Sumption told the BBC’s Today programme.

“I have reached the point eventually where I don’t think that my continuing presence on the court is serving any useful purpose.”

On Monday he wrote in a newspaper op-ed that the city’s rule of law has been “profoundly compromised”.

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    “The problem in Hong Kong has been building up over the last four years and I think all the judges on the court feel concerned about this,” Lord Sumption told the BBC’s Today programme.

    "On Monday he wrote in a newspaper op-ed that the city’s rule of law has been “profoundly compromised”.Hong Kong’s government said it “strongly disapproves” of Lord Sumption’s opinions, calling them a “betrayal against Hong Kong’s judges”.It highlighted remarks from the other leaving judges who said they still believed in the independence of the courts.Canadian judge Beverley McLachlin, who resigned on Monday citing her wish to spend more time with family said: "I continue to have confidence in the members of the Court, their independence, and their determination to uphold the rule of law.”But her departure as well as that of Lords Sumption and Lawrence Collins - another former UK Supreme Court justice- last week means at least six senior foreign judges have stepped down from sitting in Hong Kong since a major national security law (NSL) was imposed by China in 2020.Lord Sumption has been much more overtly critical than his peers- arguing that the laws, which have been widely criticised as being draconian, have overridden the independent functioning of courts and heaped pressure on the judiciary.“Intimidated or convinced by the darkening political mood, many judges have lost sight of their traditional role as defenders of the liberty of the subject, even when the law allows it,” he wrote in the Financial Times.

    Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Lord Sumption said it had become increasingly clear that Hong Kong’s supercharged security laws were being used to "crush peaceful political dissent, not just riots.

    "Such a precedent was set in 2023, when in the high-profile prosecution of Hong Kong billionaire Jimmy Lai, Beijing overturned the Court of Final Appeal’s ruling to allow the democracy activist his choice of lawyer.He also spoke of further pressures on judges, describing in his op-ed an “oppressive” environment.

    According to recent media reports, they are paid £40,000 per case.Lord Sumption had said most of Hong Kong’s judges are “honourable people with all the liberal instincts of the common law.”“But they have to operate in an impossible political environment created by China.”

    James Spigelman directly cited the impact of the wide-sweeping National Security Law which hadn’t kicked into operation yet.Two years later, UK Supreme Court justices Robert Reed and Patrick Hodge also stepped down following concerns raised by the British government.Lord Reed, the chief justice of the top UK court, said he agreed with the government that serving Supreme Court justices could not continue to serve in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse a government that had “departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression”.The remaining judges on the court at the time – which included Lords Collins and Sumption – issued a statement shortly after defending their position.They said they believed their “continued participation” would be “in the interest of the people of Hong Kong”.But on Monday, Lord Sumption said he no longer believed this.He told the BBC he had chosen to stay on the first few years “to see how things develop and to hope that one can make a positive contribution.”


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