The start of the legal year in Hong Kong got underway last week with a joint prayer service for Protestant and Roman Catholic lawyers. The service, at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in the Central district of Hong Kong, was for members of the St Thomas More Society, an ecumenical group for Christian lawyers. It was led by Cardinal John Tong Hon of the Roman Catholic Church, and Archbishop Paul Kwong, the Anglican Primate of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui – the Anglican Church in Hong Kong – and chair of the international Anglican Consultative Council.
Thomas More was named as the patron saint of lawyers and politicians by Pope John II in 2000. He had been beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1935. In the Church of England, he is commemorated in the liturgical calendar as a Martyr of the Reformation.
He was born in London in 1478 and educated in the household of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He became a barrister in 1496, before being elected as Member of Parliament in 1510. He served as a member of the King’s Council and gave up his judicial roles to become an advisor to the young King Henry VIII. He was knighted and elected Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. He later served as Lord Chancellor of England. He was executed in 1535 after being sentenced to death for treason for refusing to acknowledge Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth I as heir over Princess Mary.
The Bible readings at last week’s service were given by Court of Appeal Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li and Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, the Chief Justice of the Hong Kong High Court. The responsorial psalm was led by Martin Lee Chu-ming, a senior Hong Kong politician and barrister. The sermon was given by Father Miguel Diez from Opus Dei.
“The legal system in Hong Kong is the common law system,” Chief Justice Ma said later at the ceremonial opening of the 2018 legal year in Hong Kong City Hall. “This system has been in place for nearly 180 years and has served the community by contributing to Hong Kong’s success over the years. This is a system that has been regarded as being appropriate for our community.”
He said that the law was only factor judges could use to reach their verdicts. “Courts and judges are concerned only with the law and the legal issues which arise in any dispute to be determined by them,” he said. “It is not relevant to adjudicate on political, economic or social issues as such without reference to the law. In particular, political or other affiliations or biases are simply not relevant at all, whether in favour of or detrimental to the person involved.”