Britain to withdraw judges from Hong Kong top court

Britain said Wednesday that it is withdrawing its judges from Hong Kong’s top court because keeping them there would “legitimize oppression” in the former British colony.

British judges have sat on the court since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. The British government’s move underscores the Asian financial hub’s growing isolation as the ruling Chinese Communist Party works to assert its control and silence independent voices.

While the U.K. had judges serving on the Court of Final Appeal as part of efforts to safeguard the rule of law in the city, the British government said it was “no longer tenable” because of increasingly oppressive laws enacted by China. The two senior British judges on the court submitted their resignations Wednesday.

“The courts in Hong Kong continue to be internationally respected for their commitment to the rule of law,” U.K. Supreme Court President Robert Reed said after his resignation from the Hong Kong court. “Nevertheless, I have concluded, in agreement with the government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression.”

China has intensified its crackdown on Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous political and legal institutions in recent years. Those efforts include passage of the sweeping National Security Law in 2020 and changes to the electoral system that have effectively ended political opposition in the territory.