Criticising Judges and the Courts

The Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law is hosting a Public Lecture on criticising judges and the courts by the Hon Geoffrey Ma, Chief Justice of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal on Thursday 24 May at 6.30 pm. This will be followed by a reception with drinks and canapés. see link for more.

The Basic Law of Hong Kong brought about a new constitutional order in 1997 based on the idea of ‘one country, two systems’. The Court of Final Appeal was established as Hong Kong’s highest appellate court and has a significant case load in public law. It operates in what its current Chief Justice has called an established common law jurisdiction that has been in place for nearly 180 years. Some of Australia’s most distinguished jurists have served as overseas non-permanent judges of the Court: Sir Anthony Mason, Sir Gerard Brennan, Murray Gleeson AC, Robert French AC, James Spigelman AC, Sir Daryl Dawson, Michael McHugh AC and William Gummow AC.

Abstract: ‘Criticising Judges and the Courts: Overstepping the Crease’: 
During the Second World War, as London was being bombed, Winston Churchill asked, ‘Are the courts functioning?’ and when he was told they were he exclaimed, ‘Thank God. If the courts are working, nothing can go wrong.’ This was perhaps a direct reference to the protection of individual and community rights, a responsibility that courts are expected to discharge. Rights include the freedom of speech and other rights such as access to the courts. When the judicial system, which includes the work of the courts and judges, is criticised from the point of view of rights, how do the courts deal with this, for there can be said to be possible conflicts of interest? And what are the limits of the criticism that can be levelled at courts and judges? In this talk, the speaker will address these questions chiefly from experiences gained in Hong Kong, but in truth the questions can well apply to the legal system in most jurisdictions.

Chief Justice Ma was born in Hong Kong in 1956. He studied law and graduated with an LLB from Birmingham University in 1977. After completing the Bar Finals in 1978, he was called to the English Bar (Gray’s Inn) in 1978, the Hong Kong Bar in 1980, the Bar of the State of Victoria in Australia in 1983 and the Bar of Singapore in 1990. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1993. He became an Honorary Bencher of Gray’s Inn in 2004. In 2011, he was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) by the University of Birmingham. In 2012, he became an Honorary Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford.  In 2016, he became an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple and was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Chief Justice Ma was appointed a Recorder of the Court of First Instance from 2000 to 2001 before his appointment as a Judge of the Court of First Instance in 2001. He was appointed a Justice of Appeal in 2002, and became Chief Judge of the High Court in 2003. Chief Justice Ma was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal on 1 September 2010. Chief Justice Ma is a Patron of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law; he is also a Patron of the International Advocacy Training Council. He was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal in June 2012.