Hong Kong's Chief Justice visits Law School

24 March 2013
The Chief Justice of Hong Kong and students Anna Devathasan and Gretta Schumacher

The Chief Justice of Hong Kong, Honourable Mr Geoffrey Ma, delivered a public lecture on the future of the English Common Law in Hong Kong at the Auckland Law School on Friday 8 March.

Hosted and introduced by Deputy Dean Elsabe Schoeman, Chief Justice Ma spoke to a full lecture theatre. He noted it was a nostalgic experience for him walking the halls of the Auckland Law School, reminding him of his earlier days at Birmingham University in the 1970’s.

Hong Kong returned to the sovereignty of China in 1997. The Common Law continues to play a key role in the administration of justice in Hong Kong. In his talk, the Chief Justice explained how the law of the People’s Republic of China is very different from that in Hong Kong. It has a Civil Law tradition but no truly independent judiciary. He shared the implications of the continued application of the Common Law in Hong Kong given its position within the People’s Republic of China.

China had always regarded Hong Kong as a part of its territory apart from the period of British rule (1841 – 1997). In 1841 Hong Kong had a population of approximately 6,000 – it was described as a “barren rock” with a few villages, and ceded to the British Crown in perpetuity. Britain colonised Hong Kong in 1841 for finance and trade. With a legal infrastructure needed for trade and provision of a regulatory regime, the Common Law was introduced.

“The Common Law has an underlying respect for rights: human, commercial or liberties. In the absence of a Bill of Rights, the Common Law has always respected rights. It embodies a fearless and independent judiciary for reinforcing the Common Law.

“The Common Law shows a characteristic ability of courts to resolve disputes in a reasoned, logical way, enabling respect from all parties to a dispute. In this way the Common Law gives a community confidence,” said Chief Justice Ma.

In response to the issue of the future of the Common Law in Hong Kong, Chief Justice Ma signalled 2047 would be an important date. IT would be 50 years since 1997. A joint declaration between Great Britain and Hong Kong in 1984 talks about maintaining things ‘unchanged’ for 50 years. This poses the question: Is the Common Law going to survive after 2047?

Chief Justice Ma believes that if a system of law delivers what it is intends to a community, it should continue. He pointed out that the approach of the courts is shown by the judgments that have come out of them, noting this as a lasting characteristic of the Common Law.

“A fully reasoned judgment where the court has applied the law, the spirit of the law, and applied it in an impartial way, this shows an independent legal system at work. The jewel of the Common Law is reasoned judgment,” says Chief Justice Ma.

If the Common Law system in Hong Kong continues to give the community confidence in trade there is no need to increase the influence of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Hong Kong affairs.
Following his lecture Chief Justice Ma took questions from the audience, followed by the Acting Associate Dean (Administration) John Ip giving a vote of thanks.

Photo gallery: http://www.law.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/home/about/events-1/events-photo-galleries/2013-events-galleries/chief-justice-ma-hong-kong