Hong Kong Shue Yan University The Thirty-Fifth Graduation Ceremony Citation
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa The Honorable Chief Justice Andrew Kwok-nang Li


A citation written and delivered by Professor Ned Aughterson, Head, Department of Law and Business

Some twenty three hundred years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote:

Now, absolute monarchy, or the arbitrary rule of a sovereign over all citizens, in a city which consists of equals, is thought by some to be quite contrary to nature; … That is why it is thought to be just among equals everyone be ruled as well as rule, … And the rule of law, it is argued, is preferable to that of any individual.

The great responsibility of preserving the ideals expressed by Aristotle, of upholding the rule of law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, has fallen on the first and present Chief Justice, the Honorable Andrew Kwok-nang Li. He assumed office at an historic time, on the resumption of Chinese Sovereignty over Hong Kong in July 1997. Since that time, he has championed the values that underlie our legal system and has made a towering contribution to the maintenance of judicial independence and the preservation of the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. He is widely credited with maintaining confidence in the judicial system, which is fundamental to the social and economic development of Hong Kong. That alone is a great achievement. Without a fair and independent judicial system, citizens will be wary and many investors will seek less risky ventures. As the American President Andrew Jackson noted: constitutional rights are a “mere bubble” unless guaranteed by an “independent and virtuous Judiciary”.

The judicial decisions of the Chief Justice speak not only of the independence of the judiciary, but also demonstrate a strong adherence to the underlying values inherent in the legal system and adopted in the Basic Law. In a 2002 judgment he stated:

The intention of the Basic Law was to entrench constitutionally the rights and freedoms in Chapter III, rights and freedoms which are essential to Hong Kong’s separate system, and the courts have the duty of safeguarding and protecting them by adopting a generous approach to their interpretation.

Later, in 2005, in referring to the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, he was joined by other judges of the Court of Final Appeal in declaring:

These freedoms are of cardinal importance for the stability and progress of society for a number of inter-related reasons.  …  A democratic society is one where the market place of ideas must thrive.  These freedoms enable citizens to voice criticisms, air grievances and seek redress.  This is relevant not only to institutions exercising powers of government but also to organizations outside the public sector which in modern times have tremendous influence over the lives of citizens.  Minority views may be disagreeable, unpopular, distasteful or even offensive to others.  But tolerance is a hallmark of a pluralistic society.


Chief Justice Li was born in Hong Kong and attended school both in Hong Kong and England before obtaining Bachelor of Arts in Law and Master of Laws degrees from the University of Cambridge. He was called to the Middle Temple in 1970 and three years later was admitted to the Hong Kong Bar. He took silk in 1988.

His contribution to public life is impressive and continues a long Li family tradition of public service and leadership in diverse fields, including banking, government, and education, as well as the law.

He was appointed a Deputy Judge of the District Court of Hong Kong in 1982 and a Deputy High Court Judge in 1991. In 1992 he became a member of the Executive Council of Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong.  In light of the aspirations expressed in the Basic Law, it is fitting that he became the first Chief Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region after the handover. Central to the Basic Law, as reflected in the Preamble as well as its articles, is the ideal of maintaining the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. That could not be achieved without a judicial system that is transparently fair and respected, both locally and internationally. In turn, particularly in the formative years, that required the appointment of a Chief Justice who personally possessed those qualities.

The public service of Chief Justice Li extends even beyond those appointments. It has included serving as a Steward of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Chairman of the University and Polytechnic Grants Committee and the Land Development Corporation, and Vice Chairman of the Council of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Council of St Paul’s Co-educational College [where he received his early education], a trustee of the Friends of Tsinghua University Law School Charitable Trust and a Guest Professor of Tsinghua University.

The Chief Justice has been awarded Honorary Degrees by several other universities in Hong Kong and overseas, including the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He was made an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple in 1997 and an Honorary Fellow of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge in 1999. He was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal by the Hong Kong Government in 2008. In an address following the conferral of one of his several honorary degrees, he offered some remarks to graduating students and, in so doing, quoted Winston Churchill: “Remember that we make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give”.

By that measure, Chief Justice Li has enjoyed and continues to enjoy a rich and fulsome life. And, importantly for Shue Yan, that life includes a link to this University. In addition to his long-standing friendship with Dr Hu, President of Shue Yan University, both being barristers, his mother and father were friends of Dr Hu and Dr Chung, the Principal of Shue Yan University.

Mr President, I commend to you the Honorable Chief Justice Andrew Kwok-nang Li, of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, for the award of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

From: December Issue 2009

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