Schooled in Hong Kong and England, Andrew Li Kwok Nang read law at Cambridge and was called to the Middle Temple in 1970, and the Hong Kong Bar three years later, where he practised until 1997, taking silk in 1988. His illustrious career at the Bar was cut short when he was appointed the first Chief Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It would be difficult, Mr Pro-Chancellor, to think of a more fitting candidate to occupy this influential position.
The Chief Justice has a long litany of public service. He has served on the Executive Council, Deputy Chairman of the Inland Revenue Board of Review, and as a member of the Lands Tribunal, the Securities Commission, the Law Reform Commission, the Standing Committee on Company Law Reform, the Banking Advisory Committee, and the Judicial Services Commission. He has also held the post of secretary of the Bar Association.
Mr Justice Li has also served our community's educational system in a number of ways. He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and, closer to our heart (and purse), he was an energetic and innovative Chairman of the University and Polytechnics Grants Committee (as it then was). He is a trustee of the Friends of Tsinghua University Law School Charitable Trust. The law school is new, and one with which our own Faculty of Law has a close association. One of its principal objectives is to offer courses in the common law. As Chief Justice, Andrew Li plays an invaluable role in advising and inspiring this fledgling Mainland institution.
He has been honoured by several of our sister institutions. Honorary degrees have been bestowed upon him by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Baptist University, and the Open University of Hong Kong. He is an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple and an Honorary Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. And he is a valued friend of this University, especially of our Faculty of Law. The judiciary, Mr Pro-Chancellor, is the centrifugal force of our legal system. The dispassionate judge is the common law's icon, its apotheosis of probity and integrity. The "social service" that he renders to the community is, in Lord Devlin's words, "the removal of a sense of injustice". The impartiality that informs his judgments in the settlement of disputes is nothing short of an article of faith in a free and fair society. Even in our digital age of scepticism suspicion, this attractive conception of the judicial function, of the judge as keeper of the law, protector and repository of justice, is not easily dislodged. It generates a cornucopia of challenges and responsibilities that our Chief Justice, with his Confucian sense of duty and virtue, is admirably suited to discharge. We look to an independent judiciary to defend our freedom. It must, at the same time, ensure that the tradition of the common law continues to flourish in its new potentially inhospitable setting. This is an awesome burden to place on the shoulders of the judge. It is one, by virtue of his very calling, that he cannot relinquish. Freedom of expression, to mention one of the most fundamental and fragile of our rights under the Basic Law, requires vigilant defence. When he went down from Cambridge, Andrew Li wrote to the Far Eastern Economic Review, seeking employment as a journalist. The magazine took him on. He may be the only member of the Li dynasty to have worked as a reporter. Perhaps this inculcated in the young man a sense of the importance of this liberty. Many years later, in a recent decision of the Court of Final Appeal, the Chief Justice proclaimed:
Freedom of expression is a fundamental freedom in a democratic society. It lies at the heart of civil society and of Hong Kong's system and way of life. The courts must give a generous interpretation to its constitutional guarantee. This freedom includes the freedom to express ideas which the majority may find disagreeable or offensive and the freedom to criticise governmental institutions and the conduct of public officials.
Hong Kong is extremely fortunate to have at the head of our legal system, a man who has the perspicacity, vision, and experience to seek to preserve and sustain the rights and freedoms cherished by all our people. For his exceptional record of service to the law and to our community, I commend The Hon Mr Justice Andrew Li, Chief Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to you, Mr Pro-Chancellor, for the award of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Citation written and delivered by Professor Raymond Ivor Wacks, the Public Orator.