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Canada’s former top judge stays mum on her future with Hong Kong court

After two fellow judges resign, Beverley McLachlin declines to comment on her plans for her role with the Hong Kong Court of Appeal.
Beverley-McLachlin-3.0 Brazil
Ex-Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin told media last year she was staying on the Hong Kong Court of Appeal because she did not “wish to do anything that will weaken the last bastion perhaps of intact democracy in Hong Kong.

The spotlight is back on the former top judge of B.C. and Canada, because of her controversial part-time role on Hong Kong’s highest court.

Beverley McLachlin, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada from 2000 to 2017, is among a dozen overseas, non-permanent judges on the Hong Kong Court of Appeal. She was appointed in 2018, the same year she was named a companion of the Order of Canada.

On March 30, the United Kingdom government announced that two U.K. judges immediately resigned due to the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing crackdown on rights and freedoms in the former colony.

U.K. foreign secretary Liz Truss announced that discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor and President of the Supreme Court had concluded that “it was no longer tenable for serving U.K. judges to sit” on the Hong Kong court. After imposing a national security law in 2020, the statement said, the People’s Republic of China had continued to use the legislation to undermine fundamental rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers.

Asked if she would also tender her resignation, McLachlin replied by email: “I have no comment at this time.”

In August 2021, McLachlin told the National Post that she was staying on the court out of principle because she did not “wish to do anything that will weaken the last bastion perhaps of intact democracy in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong was supposed to be governed for 50 years after the 1997 handover according to rights and freedoms in the 1984 Joint Declaration between the U.K. and China. Since the national security law, Beijing’s response to 2019’s pro-democracy protests, numerous activists, politicians and journalists have been tried and jailed. Two newspapers, Apple Daily and Stand News, were forcibly shut down.

Canada also agreed to accept more immigrants from Hong Kong, but many applications have been caught in the pandemic backlog.

McLachlin served as the BC Supreme Court’s chief justice from 1985 to 1989. In 2019, in the wake of then-Speaker Darryl Plecas’s report on corruption at the B.C. Legislature, McLachlin was hired for a three-month, $220,000 review that found suspended clerk Craig James committed misconduct. Her report led to James’ sudden retirement in May 2019.

Last year, McLachlin published the crime thriller Denial.