Judge who ruled in favor of anti-mask law to serve in Hong Kong’s top court

2021.05.12

A jurist with experience in handling Hong Kong cases related to citywide protests in 2019 will become a permanent judge of the city’s top court.

The appointment of Mr Justice Johnson Lam to the Court of Final Appeal has been accepted by Chief Executive Carrie Lam under Article 88 of the Basic Law, and is pending the endorsement of the legislature.

The judge, now vice president of the Court of Appeal, has presided over several controversial cases, including a judicial review of the government’s anti-mask law, which was implemented using emergency legislation in 2019 to curb demonstrations spinning out of control at the time. The Court of First Instance initially ruled the law unconstitutional, but Johnson Lam and two other judges of the Court of Appeal reversed the decision in December last year.

Then in January, Lam sat on the judging panel that overturned the Court of First Instance’s decision to reinstate full rights for male indigenous villagers to build three-story village houses on both private and government-sourced land.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said he was “an all‑rounded appellate judge who possesses rich experience and expertise in handling civil cases of all types, including in particular public law and constitutional law cases.”

She said: “His judgments are well‑reasoned and balanced. They are regularly reported in the law reports and cited in arguments and judgments. He also has extensive experience in steering reforms to improve on the administration of justice. He will be a great asset to the Court of Final Appeal.”

Chief Justice Andrew Cheung welcomed the chief executive’s acceptance of the appointment.

Under Article 90 of the Basic Law, the chief executive shall obtain the endorsement of the Legislative Council on the appointment of Court of Final Appeal judges, and must report such appointment to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature.

A case that goes to the top court is heard by the chief justice, three permanent judges and one non-permanent judge from Hong Kong or another common law jurisdiction, according to the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Ordinance.

Johnson Lam is set to become the top court’s third permanent judge alongside Mr Justice Roberto Ribeiro and Mr Justice Joseph Fok.

Lam, 59, is married with one child. He obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1983 and a Postgraduate Certificate in Laws in 1984, both from the University of Hong Kong. He was in private practice in the city from 1985 until he joined the judiciary as a district judge in 2001.

He was appointed to the Court of First Instance in 2003 and to the Court of Appeal in 2012, before becoming vice president in September 2013.

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