Controversial former Supreme Court of Canada judge steps down from Hong Kong court

McLachlin has dismissed criticism that the court supports Beijing and contributes to the erosion of human rights and judicial independence.

Controversial former Supreme Court of Canada judge steps down from Hong Kong court
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The controversial former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has announced that she will retire from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal amid criticism. 

Beverley McLachlin, 80, announced that she will step down from the controversial court when her term ends on July 29, 2024. 

Since joining the court in 2018, McLachlin has faced several calls for her resignation over controversial national security laws that have passed.

"It has been a privilege serving the people of Hong Kong," McLachlin said in a statement. "I continue to have confidence in the members of the court, their independence and their determination to uphold the rule of law."

The court can have as many as 30 non-permanent judges at any given time. Currently, there are three non-permanent Hong Kong judges and 12 non-permanent common law judges.

The hotly contested 2020 national security law made sweeping changes to laws against secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. Anyone found guilty of those crimes faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This law also allowed China to establish a national security agency in Hong Kong, completely separate from the Hong Kong government.

It allowed authorities to arrest pro-democracy activists, lawmakers, and journalists. Voting rights have been curbed, and freedoms of the press and speech are limited.

Australian judge James Spigelman resigned from the court thereafter, citing reasons he described as being "related to the content of the national security legislation."

Article 23 saw the Chinese government's ability to stamp out future challenges to its rule increase, which allowed for punishment for those committing treasonous or insurrectionist acts.

The law also included prison terms for other offences such as espionage or unlawful disclosure of state secrets.

Siding with the Chinese Communist Party, McLachlin has dismissed criticism that the court props up Beijing and supports the erosion of human rights that has resulted in declining judicial independence.

"That's just when you need courts, when you have laws like this when you have governments that might need checking," she said to CBC News Network's Power & Politics in 2022.

"The court is completely independent and functioning in the way I am used to in Canada. The court is functioning. There's no governmental influence, and if there were I wouldn't be there."

McLachlin's announcement comes after two senior British judges resigned from Hong Kong's highest court due to the "political situation" in the city, but McLachlin maintains that she is stepping down to spend more time with her family.

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