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The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin announced that she will be retiring from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal upon reaching the legal age limit for a judge.

McLachlin said that she will retire once her second three-year term ends on July 29th 2024 and looks back on the court confident that it will be independent and uphold the rule of law.

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

McLachlin’s tenure on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal had been scrutinized for years for lending Canada’s reputation and credibility to China, which had undertaken an authoritarian takeover of Hong Kong just a couple of years after McLachlin’s appointment. 

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, which allows retired judges from foreign jurisdictions to sit on the bench as non-permanent judges, saw the former chief justice of New South Wales, Australia, James Spigelman, resign in 2020 after China enshrined their national security law.

Two years later, the president and the deputy president of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court resigned from the court, saying that they could not appear to endorse an administration that was clamping down on freedoms and liberties.

However, McLachlin had told the Globe and Mail that she was happy with the Hong Kong top court’s judicial independence and her work in preserving the human rights of Hong Kong’s people.

“The court is doing a terrific job of helping maintain rights for people, insofar as the law permits it, in Hong Kong. Which is as much as our courts do,” McLachlin told the Globe last December.

Appearing before Parliament’s international human rights subcommittee, Chung Ching Kwong, a former resident of Hong Kong, told parliamentarians that no foreign judge should be serving on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. 

“I’d say any foreign judges who are serving on the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong should have left by now. The reason is that their presence on the Court of Final Appeal is giving the so-called rule of law a false legitimization that there is a rule of law,” said Kwong.

“They’re simply maintaining the façade that there might be rule of law in the system, be it in the criminal side of things or the commercial side of things.

At the same committee meeting, lawyer Jonathan Price said that McLachlin’s presence in the Hong Kong court gives China ammunition to claim that the rule of law still exists in Hong Kong when it does not.

“She’s become part of the appearance of the rule of law, but she is not significantly contributing to its substance, as much as she’d like to think that she is. She’s probably doing more harm than good,” said Price.

“There is nothing there anymore, but it is a dressing, like the foreign judges. They still have, of course, the courtrooms. They still wear the robes. I’m afraid, with no disrespect to her personally, Beverley McLachlin has become part of that dressing.”

McLachlin is Canada’s longest-serving Chief Justice of Canada, serving for 17 years and ruling on several landmark cases.