Hong Kong’s judiciary remains widely admired for its independence. But the numbers of worriers are growing. “The discretion of prosecutions is ultimately held by a political appointee. There is no insulation from that political process,” says Alvin Cheung of New York University [who is also a member of the Progressive Lawyers Group].
The decision by Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal to drastically and retroactively increase the sentences of activists Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law has prompted widespread international concern. Unsurprisingly, suggestions in international op-ed pages that Hong Kong had created its first political prisoners have prompted a strident public backlash. Commentators ranging from Hong Kong officials and committed Beijing apologists to retired judges and senior members of the legal profession have dismissed suggestions that Hong Kong’s judicial independence has been undermined. Yet the focus of public commentary on the role of the judiciary should not obscure three lingering questions about the future of rule of law in Hong Kong.