Former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice expected to become Hong Kong judge

Mar 23 2018, 5:52 am

Beverley McLachlin, the longest-serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, is likely to be appointed to a new judicial position in the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong.

If selected, the former Chief Justice is taking on a new permanent common-law judge role in Hong Kong’s highest judicial authority.

She joins the United Kingdom’s Baroness Brenda Hale as foreign judges to be considered by the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, according to a release.

The recommendations are supported by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is the head of government for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li.

At the moment, the Court of Final Appeal has three non-permanent Hong Kong judges and 12 non-permanent common law judges, with the maximum number of non-permanent seats being set at 30.

The Legislative Council is expected to approve both recommendations, which will increase the number of judges from foreign common law jurisdictions to 14 and “provide greater flexibility for dealing with the caseload of the Court of Final Appeal.”

The Supreme Court of Canada (Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock)

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (Shutterstock)

The Court of Final Appeal has a longstanding practice of inviting judges from foreign jurisdictions to be temporary members. Hong Kong has a record of appointing judges from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, but McLachlin taking the bench would be the Court’s first appointment of a Canadian justice.

McLachlin, 74, sat in the nation’s top judicial authority for 28 years. She retired on December 15, 2017 and was replaced by Richard Wagner.

She was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989, and elevated to Chief Justice in 2000, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

Her judicial career first began in 1981 when she was appointed to the Vancouver County Court. Later that year, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Then in 1985, she became a judge in the Court of Appeal for British Columbia and was promoted three years later to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

“Chief Justice McLachlin’s judicial accomplishments are unparalleled in Canadian history. She has been a judicial leader and trailblazer for almost four decades,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during McLachlin’s retirement announcement in June 2017.

“She is one of Canada’s very finest jurists… Canadians owe her an immense debt. On behalf of all Canadians, I thank Chief Justice McLachlin for her long and dedicated service to Canada.”

Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal in Central, Hong Kong. (Shutterstock)

After Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in July 1997, the authority held by the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, was replaced in Hong Kong with the Court of Final Appeal.

As a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong generally has a high degree of autonomy and independence from Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party.

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong is governed under a “one country, two systems” model, with the Basic Law of Hong Kong outlining the limitations of power and influence Beijing has on the former British colony until 2047.

The socialism of Mainland China is currently not practiced in Hong Kong, which is the world’s freest economy and one of the largest international financial centres.

Under Basic Law, Hong Kong citizens still enjoy many of the same fundamental rights and freedoms gained from British rule, and the city has its own laws and judicial system separate from Mainland China.

According to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, the city has over 7.4 million residents living in a geographic area roughly the same as Metro Vancouver.

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