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Hong Kong’s Courts Need to Maintain ‘Focus’ for the City’s Legal System to Endure – Former Judge Henry Litton


Hong Kong’s judiciary has lost its former efficacy and judges need to focus on remedies and practical issues rather than esoteric arguments, said Henry Litton, former judge of the Court of Final Appeal, in an FCC webinar. 

“What I think one needs to do is to really just focus on the actual issues, rather than to give the entire narrative,” Litton said. “What has been happening in a lot of the cases is that the judges really are not focused anymore.”

In his new book The Dance of Folly, or How Theatrics Have Tainted the Rule of Law, Litton argues the judiciary has been weakened over the past two decades by a culture of verbosity and philosophising when what’s needed is a focus on practical matters.

“That is how the rule of law is supposed to work, not dissolving into clouds of words, of theories, of arcane analyses and so on which bear no relationship with the actual issue and problem on the ground,” Litton told FCC Journalist Governor Cliff Buddle.

He outlined five cardinal rules for strengthening the judiciary and rule of law: effective action, discipline of law, ensuring the law has a cutting edge, focusing on remedies and preventing courtrooms from becoming places of debate. 

The former judge, who previously authored Is the Hong Kong Judiciary Sleepwalking to 2047?, said these changes are needed to ensure the survival of the city’s legal system in the coming years. He predicted that a decision would be made in the next five or six years on whether the common law system will be Hong Kong’s governing system beyond June 2047. 

The courts adopting a more common sense approach would be seen as a favourable move by Beijing, Litton said, noting that the central government will ultimately decide the fate of the judiciary. He argued that a straightforward and effective judiciary would have a better chance of survival.

“For stability and prosperity, everyone everywhere would accept that when you have a legal system that actually works and functions, you should not dismantle it and try to replace it because there would be total chaos for many, many years, for generations maybe,” Litton said. 

You can watch the full discussion below.

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