In an exclusive interview for Asia Business Law Journal, Canadian Justice Beverley McLachlin talks to Edward R Chin about her role as an overseas judge in Hong Kong
Inviting overseas judges to sit in local Hong Kong courts when they have not practised in the jurisdiction, nor are they versed in the local language or culture, might raise some eyebrows.
However, this is common practice in Hong Kong, and is enshrined in the city’s version of a constitution, the Basic Law, where the power of final adjudication is “vested in the Court of Final Appeal of the region, which may as required invite judges from other common law jurisdictions to sit on the Court of Final Appeal”.
Justice McLachlin is Hong Kong’s first woman non-permanent justice. She served as the Chief Justice of Canada from 2000 to mid-December 2017, and is the longest serving chief justice in Canadian history. In June 2018, she became a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest honour that can be bestowed on a civilian in that nation. A published best-selling author, she is also an international judge of the Singapore International Commercial Court, and an international arbitrator.
In her memoir, titled Truth Be Told, McLachlin wrote that as a younger woman she had never considered becoming a lawyer or a judge. It was only after a conversation with her first and late husband, Rory, that she even considered applying to law school. McLachlin had set her sights on a career in philosophy because she had heard of women philosophers, but never women lawyers. From a humble background growing up on a small farm in Canada’s Alberta province, she was the first and remains the only woman in Canada to have had the role of chief justice.
When asked how she got the position of non-permanent justice in Hong Kong, McLachlin says she was simply invited by the chief justice of Hong Kong, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li.