Over the past year, there have been harassments and intimidations against judges and judicial officers on various occasions. Whilst it may not be appropriate to speculate at this stage whether these acts are directly related to the cases heard before them, it is indisputable that such acts are despicable and heinous. Recently, within a week, there were two cases of intimation against judges, which are utterly intolerable. Members of the legal sector, including me, are duty bound to remind the public of the importance of respecting judicial independence. No one should arbitrarily launch attacks on judges or threaten their personal safety.
It is our understanding that judges, in exercising their judicial power, must take into account the applicable law and admissible evidence. Their judgments set out the full reasons for arriving at the decision. This is in accord with the basic principle that judges are to decide cases according to the law impartially and independently. Judicial independence is essential to the rule of law and the due administration of justice in Hong Kong. It is similarly fundamental to the rule of law that everyone should respect court decisions and obey court orders. Attacks made against the judiciary simply based on the outcome of cases, or made with an attempt to exert undue influence on judges by means of doxxing or threats of violence, are not only unacceptable in a law-abiding society, but will also be to no avail.
The Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2021 pointed out that “attempts to exert undue pressure on our judges by means such as threats of violence or doxxing are as futile as they are reprehensible.”
Acts harassing or threatening judges are in blatant defiance of the law and offenders will face legal consequences. I would like to point out some of the legal principles governing these unscrupulous acts and urge everyone to comply with the law.
Any person persistently making telephone calls without reasonable cause and for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person commits a crime.1
Anyone who threatens any other person with injury to him/her shall be guilty and liable on conviction upon indictment to imprisonment for five years.2
Criminal contempt of court means conduct calculated to interfere with the due administration of justice, and where there is a real risk that the due administration of justice would be undermined by the relevant conduct. Examples of which include insulting judicial officers, scandalising the court or interference with witnesses, etc.
An injunction was granted by the Court of First Instance (CFI) last year which restrained doxxing against judicial officers and their family. The CFI remarked that “any attempt to cause fear or to seek favour from or otherwise inappropriately influence a Judge or Judicial Officer [it] must be prevented”3.
Members of our society must respect the outcomes of judicial proceedings even if these may not be to their liking. A party who feels aggrieved by a court decision may review or appeal against the decision in accordance with the established mechanism. Meanwhile, others should read the judgments and understand the reasons for the decisions. This will facilitate a proper, objective and rational discussion of judgments and develop society’s understanding of the law and its application, thereby reinforcing the practice of the rule of law. Those who turn a blind eye to the reasons of the court’s rulings, and act unlawfully and despicably against judges based merely on their own likings on the outcomes of cases only reveal their ignorance, cowardice and blatant disregard of the law.
At the Hong Kong Legal Week 2021, the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal remarked that members of the public must learn to understand and respect that outcomes of judicial proceedings may not be to their liking, or accord with where they consider justice lies. The decisions of the courts are based on legal principles, not a quantitative measurement of overall social satisfaction. I fully agree with his view. On top of it, I would also like to add that law exists in practice, and it should be observed by the community which should also respect the rule of law. All of us jointly bear the responsibility to respect judicial independence and the rule of law so as to reinforce the fundamental basis of our society.
November 19, 2021
1 Section 20(c) of the Summary Offences Ordinance.
2 Section 24 of the Crimes Ordinance.
3 Paragraph 33 of HCA1847/2020.