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 Syed Kemal Shah BOKHARY




Syed Kemal Shah BOKHARY

Doctor of Laws
honoris causa

Mr Justice Syed Kemal Shah Bokhary (known to many as "Kemy") has served Hong Kong with notable distinction as a barrister and judge. Indeed, he has gained the trust and admiration of all levels of society from the most elevated professionals to the man on the Shau Kei Wan tram.

Kemy's family is most interesting. His mother Halima can trace her Hong Kong roots back to about a decade before Hong Kong became a British Colony and Kemy's grandson is now seventh generation Hong Kong!

His father, Daud Bokhary, was a native of the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan who came to Hong Kong with the British Indian Army on the first British ship to arrive after the end of the Japanese occupation. Having served in the Army as a logistics expert, he began his civilian career in Hong Kong by managing a dockside go-down. Having taken night classes at the University of Hong Kong he entered the trading floor and ran a successful brokerage business until his retirement. Fortunately for us, it was his eldest son and not Kemy who succeeded to this business.

Kemy was born in Hong Kong in 1947. Having attended King George V School, he proceeded to England to study for and pass the Bar Finals and was called to the English Bar in 1970. He was called to the Hong Kong Bar the following year. He quickly established a very successful commercial and corporate litigation practice and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1983.

In 1989 he was appointed a Judge of the High Court and came to particular public attention in 1993 for his role in presiding over the inquest into the New Year's eve stampede in Lan Kwai Fong in which twenty-one revellers lost their lives. He was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1993 and in 1997, on the Handover of Hong Kong from Britain to the People's Republic of China, he was appointed a permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal. It is there that he has made an enormous impact upon the lives of our citizens. His reputation as a judge is formidable - for his intellectual acuity, his profound compassion and his well known sense of humour. Statistics testify that, during his fifteen year tenure, he adjudicated more appeals than any of his colleagues being involved on the Bench in 95% of all appeals heard by the final appellate court during that period.

But above all he has become known for his liberal views and their forthright expression in his judicial reasoning. Indeed, because of his strong liberal views, he has delivered more dissenting judgments than any other judge of the Court of Final Appeal. In these judgments, he has made his strong views known on several important issues: his staunch support of Hong Kong's legal autonomy and with it his opposition to seeking interpretations of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing and his wholehearted espousal of human rights; in particular, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Mr Chancellor, I trust you will permit me to make brief mention of some of his most important judgments.

His eagerness to protect the integrity of the principle of "One-Country, Two Systems" by avoiding seeking interpretations of the Basic Law from Beijing has been demonstrated on several occasions. The most recent was his dissent to inviting the Standing Committee to give an interpretation in the Congo Case - a case involving the stance Hong Kong's courts should take to state immunity.

Another well known example is Ng Siu Tung v Director of Immigration. An Interpretation had earlier been given by Beijing as to the right of abode of children born in Mainland China to a Hong Kong parent. Kemy subsequently tried to mitigate the effect of the Interpretation by arguing that all the affected children nonetheless had a legitimate expectation that they would be permitted to live in Hong Kong. His view did not find support from the majority of the Bench, although the majority did find in favour of some of the affected children.

Kemy has shown himself a passionate champion of human rights and their effect on the common man. A startling illustration is provided in a case involving "Long Hair": Leung Kwok Hung v HKSAR where he ruled, by way of dissent, that the entire system which permitted the police to restrict street protests violated the constitutional protection of human rights under the Basic Law.

To Kemy human rights are fundamental to doing justice. In his words, "Of the many and varied purposes for which law is made, none is more important than that of declaring, protecting and realising the full potential of human rights". Indeed, such rights, he maintains, cannot be compromised. As he wisely said in Prem Singh v Director of Immigration "To remit the maintenance of constitutional rights to the region of judicial discretion is to shift the foundations of freedom from the rock to the sand".

There are, of course, many more illustrations of his firm and compassionate views but time does not permit any further elaboration. As a result of his judgments Kemy has been described by judicial commentators as "the conscience of the court". One prominent lawyer said that "Mr Justice Bokhary has already become an iconic figure in the territory's legal profession for his dedication to safeguarding human rights".

On reaching the age of sixty-five Kemy retired as a Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal this year but his influence will not be entirely lost as he has happily been reappointed by the Chief Executive C Y Leung as a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court. Much sadness was expressed in the popular press who almost unanimously declared that Hong Kong had lost its most liberal judge.

Kemy is married to another outstanding judge, Verina Bokhary, who sits in the High Court. They have three beautiful daughters of whom they are very proud. They have all followed in their parents' footsteps becoming lawyers.

Kemy has enjoyed a very close relationship with our University over many years. He has been an active participant in our advocacy training programme and is the Honorary Patron of our Law Faculty's Advocacy and Mooting Society. He was appointed an honorary lecturer many years ago and has recently been appointed an Honorary Professor. We keenly anticipate many more years of fruitful collaboration.

For his services to Hong Kong Kemy was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2012.

In closing I must give Kemy the last word. In a lecture given very recently at this University he said:

"Human rights, as I see them, represent the minimum entitlements that people - all people - must be able to demand for themselves and must accord to others in order to live and let live as human beings. These entitlements are inherent in the human person and are for the law to protect. They involve civil liberties, security of property however modest, self-expression, public participation, respect for otherness and at least a tolerable standard of living. In short, they enable each and every one of us to be ourselves and to live with human dignity".

Mr Chancellor, it is my privilege and honour to present Mr Justice Syed Kemal Shah Bokhary for the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator of the University. 

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