Canadian judge is the latest to leave Hong Kong as city ‘morphs into totalitarian state’

China is turning Hong Kong into a “totalitarian state” by violating the rule of law, according to a British judge who resigned from the city’s highest court last week.

Jonathan Sumption is one of two British judges who resigned shortly after a Hong Kong court convicted 14 subversive activists under the controversial national security law, passed five years ago in the wake of mass protests.

Sumption and Lawrence Collins will be replaced by Beverly McLachlin, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who is leaving Hong Kong’s high court at the end of her term in July.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Hong Kong. I continue to have confidence in the members of the Court, their independence and their determination to uphold the rule of law,” Ms McLachlin said in a short statement.

In an article for “Financial Times”, Sumption, who served as a non-permanent foreign judge, described growing “government paranoia” and intimidation of judges amid the “worsening political mood” in the city.

“Hong Kong, once a vibrant and politically diverse community, is slowly becoming a totalitarian state,” he wrote. “The rule of law is under deep threat in all areas on which the government feels strongly.”

He remained in court hoping the presence of foreign judges would help maintain the rule of law, Sumption said, but “I’m afraid that’s no longer realistic.”

China allowed non-permanent foreign judges to sit on the Hong Kong Court of Appeal even after it took over the then-British colony in 1997 to ensure continuity with the British common law tradition, provide expertise to local lawyers and reassure businesses and financial markets.

Protesters gather outside the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles to protest Hong Kong’s new national security law (AFP via Getty)

Hong Kong’s administration reacted sharply to Mr. Sumption’s article, stating that there was “absolutely no truth that the city courts were under any political pressure.”

“Anyone who suggests otherwise, regardless of reasons or motives, would be completely wrong, completely baseless and should rightly be refuted,” Tuesday’s statement said.

City leader John Lee said it is the professional duty of judges to interpret and apply the law according to legal principles and evidence, regardless of their political views.

“Some British officials and politicians are trying to use British judicial influence as a weapon to target China and Hong Kong,” he said.

“A judge is entitled to his personal political preferences, but this is not his area of ​​professional specialization.”

In 2022, another British judge, Robert Reed, resigned from the Supreme Court, stating that the city’s administration had “abandoned the values ​​of political freedom and freedom of speech”.

Since the 2019 agitation, more than 1,800 people have been detained in Hong Kong over the crackdown on protests, many of them under the national security law.