Former Australian high court justice Patrick Keane has been lined up to serve on Hong Kong’s top court after two British judges resigned citing concerns about freedom crackdowns.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, accepted the recommendation to appoint Keane to the court of final appeal bench on Friday.
Keane was appointed to Australia’s high court in 2013 after serving as chief justice of the federal court.
The 70-year-old’s appointment as a non-permanent judge in Hong Kong will need to be cleared by the territory’s legislative council, which is stacked with China loyalists.
It will be the first time a foreign judge has been appointed since two British judges resigned from the court in March last year, citing concerns over the government’s crackdown on freedoms.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region within China and operates under the “one country two systems” principle.
But Beijing has cracked down on freedoms within the region, passing a broad national security law that makes it easier to prosecute protesters and dissidents.
The Law Council of Australia president, Luke Murphy, said Keane was an outstanding jurist.
Murphy said retired Australian judges sitting on the Hong Kong court of final appeal did so “in their own right”.
“The decision to accept an appointment as a non-permanent judge, serve a further term or resign is wholly their own,” he said.
“Judges should not be subject to any improper interference, inducements, pressures or threats, direct or indirect, from any quarter for any reason.”
Lee was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying Keane’s appointment instilled a “high degree of confidence” in Hong Kong’s legal system.