Some sad news: Mr Justice Frank Stock of the Court of Appeal is retiring. I first met Justice Stock in 2006 when he received the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Prof Yoav Dotan, whom I was lucky enough to have been escorting around Hong Kong at the time. What ensued was an amazing experience, seeing these two brilliant legal minds hit it off right away and entering into detailed discussions about Hong Kong, Israel and international law.
Justice Stock immediately struck me as one of the most articulate and eloquent people I had ever met. An amazing intellect paired with an unparalleled command of language and delivery. The barristers who appeared before him will of course know this, but the general public rarely gets any insights into the quality (or lack thereof) of the bench. However, I am not entirely sure that I would agree with the epithet given to him by the media, ‘civil rights judge’. I think he was a very proper judge, and likely the most articulate of all judges in Hong Kong, but I cannot say that he strikes me as having pushed the boat out on civil rights matters. Yes, he was instrumental in terms of getting the Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap 383) off the ground but he also undid some of that good work in cases such as Richard Ethan Latker v HKSAR (HCMA 521/2008), when he overturned the brave decision by Magistrate David Thomas to find parts of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374) unconstitutional.
But of course, that is a relatively trivial matter in the greater scheme of things. What really concerns me though is that with every retirement of a judge of Stock’s calibre, the bench suffers an intellectual loss which I so far fail to see being compensated. Ultimately, given the way the common law works, being based largely on the quality of the judgments rendered over time, and the development of legal principles from these judgements, this does not bode well for Hong Kong.