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Talk is cheap, understanding is priceless

Hong Kong, 18 November 2020: Some people won’t listen. They simply refuse to countenance another point of view. They are deaf to reasoned, logical analysis and, when others fail to agree with them, bitterness and resentment set in. This can lead to recriminations and, occasionally, unlawful conduct. With Hong Kong society polarised by civil unrest since the summer of last year, such behaviour has become all too frequent.

Almost two months ago, under the headline “Criticism of judges is infectious and irritating”, my weekly update lamented the fact that, with cases arising from the protests coming before the courts, judges and magistrates were being placed in the firing line, accused by pro-government supporters of being too lenient or admonished by opposition figures for being overly harsh. Sadly, inevitably, the trend has continued, with some lawmakers at both ends of the political spectrum – people with a platform who should behave more responsibly – among the most vocal critics.

So, while recognising that I’m flogging a dead horse with regard to certain cloth-eared politicians and activists, it is worth repeating that our Judiciary is independent and that judges and judicial officers do not give rulings based on political sympathies. In this regard, the unequivocal comments by Mr Justice Coleman in the High Court last Friday are to be welcomed. In extending, until further notice, a temporary ban on the doxxing and harassing of judicial officers and their families, he stressed the courts’ impartiality.

“It needs to be understood that, in Hong Kong, Judges and Judicial Officers are not political appointees. No Judge or Judicial Officer is appointed because of his or her actual or perceived political point of view or sympathies. Judges and Judicial Officers are not engaged in the political process, and they do not decide political issues,” he wrote in his decision.

But Mr Justice Coleman went further, chiding our Secretary for Justice for failing to defend court officials who, traditionally, do not speak up for themselves. “In common law jurisdictions like Hong Kong, it was the tradition that the minister responsible for the administration of justice has the duty of defending the Judiciary or individual Judges against wrong accusations. However, it seems that unfortunately that tradition is in decline and is not now always promptly honoured.”

Of course, there will be diehards who criticise Mr Justice Coleman’s comments and the irony of this will be lost on them. But the vast majority of us can surely agree that doxxing has no place in a civilised society.

Neither does poverty, for that matter, yet it is a fact that the number of poor people in Hong Kong is at a 10-year high, accounting for more than 20% of the population. The poverty rate among people aged 65 or over is almost 31%, according to government figures, a deplorable statistic for such a wealthy city. Inadequate retirement protection, especially for lower income earners, is one of the multiple reasons. My long-time friend Victor Apps, Chairman of the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong, has suggested two ways to make major improvements to the Mandatory Provident Fund scheme in a constructive letter to the South China Morning Post today. It is worth reading.

If I haven’t mentioned Covid-19 yet, it is because there is little to report. We keep being warned about the so-called “fourth wave” of infections that will come crashing down on us this winter, but it has yet to materialise. Hong Kong recorded four new cases – three of them imported – yesterday, taking our city’s total to 5,470 with 108 related fatalities. We are told to expect nine new cases today.

Not that the authorities are taking any chances, as our already stringent quarantine regulations are being toughened from today. For months now, visitors have been generally banned, with only Hong Kong residents allowed back in. Since last Friday, all returnees from countries outside China have been required to undergo their mandatory 14-day quarantine in hotels rather than at home, as was allowed in many cases. And from today, they cannot have visitors, thus meaning another loophole is plugged, belatedly some may argue. There is also a tightening of testing and isolation arrangements for previously exempt consular officials.

But I should finish on a positive note. Also from today, Hong Kong residents currently in Guangdong Province and Macau can begin applying online to return here without needing to quarantine. A small step towards normality, we hope.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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