Secretary for Justice (Hong Kong)

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Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region

Secretary for Justice
Hong Kong SAR Regional Emblem.svg
Rimsky Yuen 2016.jpg
The Hon Rimsky Yuen, SC

since 1 July 2012
Style The Honourable
Member of Government Secretariat
Executive Council
Reports to Legislative Council
Residence 19 Severn Road, The Peak
Appointer Central People's Government
nomination by Chief Executive
Term length No longer than the Chief Executive's remaining term
Inaugural holder Elsie Leung
Formation 1 July 1997
Website DOJ
Politics and government
of Hong Kong
Foreign relations
Related topics Hong Kong SAR Regional Emblem.svg Hong Kong portal

The Secretary for Justice (Chinese: 律政司司長) is the head of the Hong Kong Department of Justice, the chief legal advisor to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, and the chief law enforcement officer of the Government of Hong Kong. Before the end of British rule in 1997, the position was known as the Attorney-General of Hong Kong.

The Secretary for Justice, after the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary, is one of the three highest Principal Officials of the Government. The Secretary for Justice belongs to the Policy Committee, chaired by the Chief Secretary, and is normally a member of the Executive Council.

The Secretary for Justice is nominated by the Chief Executive and takes office after appointment by the Government of the People's Republic of China, which is responsible for Hong Kong's foreign affairs and defence. The office of the Secretary for Justice was established by the Hong Kong Basic Law,[1] which guarantees the power of the Department of Justice to control criminal prosecutions free from any interference.[2]

The current Secretary for Justice is Rimsky Yuen, SC.


In the course of discharging his or her duties as the chief legal advisor to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the Secretary for Justice is assisted by 5 law officers, namely:

Ranking in the Hong Kong Government[edit]

The Secretary for Justice is the third in line, after the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary, to act for the Chief Executive when he or she is on leave, outside Hong Kong, or when the position is otherwise temporarily vacant.

The Secretary for Justice ranks fifth in the Hong Kong order of precedence.


The Secretary of Justice has an official residence at 19 Severn Road, The Peak.

Pre-1997 position[edit]

Before the 1997 handover to China, the position was known as the Attorney General (Chinese: 律政司), and the department was known as the Legal Department (Chinese: 律政署) and was also known as the Attorney General's Chambers (Chinese: 律政司署). The office of the Attorney General was never localized during British rule and no Hong Kong Chinese ever held this key post.

List of Secretaries/Attorneys General[edit]

Attorneys General, 1844–1997[edit]

Portrait Name Term of office Notes
1 No image.svg Paul Ivy Sterling 1844-1855 First Attorney General (AG) of Hong Kong. Later appointed Puisne Judge in Ceylon 1855 and acting Chief Justice 1860.
2 Thomas Chisolm Anstey.jpg Thomas Chisholm Anstey 1855-1859 Former member of British Parliament 1847-1852. Practiced at Bombay bar after retirement.
3 William Henry Adams.jpg William Adams 1859-1860 Did not act as AG and was appointed acting Chief Justice immediately on arrival in Hong Kong and then appointed as Chief Justice of Hong Kong.
4 Sir John Jackson Smale.jpg Sir John Smale 1860-1866 Appointed Chief Justice of Hong Kong 1866
5 Julian Pauncefote AG of Hong Kong.jpg Sir Julian Pauncefote 1866-1873 Appointed Chief Justice of the Leeward Islands 1874. Later had a very illustrious career in the Foreign Office. Became Lord Pauncefote in 1899.
6 Sir John Bramston.jpg Sir John Bramston 1873-1876 Appointed Assistant Under Secretary of State in the Colonial Office 1876.
7 No image.svg Sir George Phillippo 1876-1879 First non-British-born AG, Phillippo was born in Jamaica. He left to become Chief Justice of Gibraltar 1879 to 1882 and returned to appointed Chief Justice of Hong Kong 1882. In 1897 he became British High Consul in Geneva, Switzerland.
8 Edward Loughlin O'Malley.png Sir Edward O'Malley 1880-1889 Appointed Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements 1889 and Chief Justice of British Guiana 1895.
9 William Meigh Goodman.jpg Sir W. Meigh Goodman, QC/KC 1890-1902 Appointed Chief Justice of Hong Kong 1902.
10 Henry Spencer Berkeley.png Sir Henry Spencer Berkeley, KC 1902-1906 Previously Chief Justice of Fiji 1889-1902. Retired to practice at Hong Kong bar 1906, but acted as AG in 1909.
11 William Rees-Davies.png Sir William Rees Davies, KC 1907-1912 Appointed Chief Justice of Hong Kong 1912.
12 John Bucknill, lawyer and judge.jpg Sir John Bucknill, KC 1912-1914 Appointed Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements 1914 and Puisne Judge of the Patna High Court in Patna, British India 1920.
13 Sir Joseph Kemp.jpg Sir Joseph Kemp, KC 1914-1930 Puisne Judge, Hong Kong, prior to appointment 1913-1914. Next appointed Chief Justice of Hong Kong 1930.
14 Grenville Alabaster.png Sir C. Grenville Alabaster, KC 1930-1946 Interned in Stanley Internment Camp during World War II and retired after the war.
World War II December 1941
- March 1946
British administration suspended during Japanese occupation during World War II. Military Government from August 1945 to March 1946.
15 John Bowes Griffin.png John Bowes Griffin, KC 1946-1951 Appointed in December 1946. G.E. Strickland, acted as AG before Bowes Griffin's appointment. Bowes Griffin was next appointed Chief Justice of Uganda 1952. Was acting Chief Justice of Northern Rhodesia 1957, Speaker of the Legislative Council in Uganda 1958-1962 and Speaker of the Ugandan National Assembly 1962-1963.
16 Click Here Arthur Ridehalgh, KC/QC 1952-1961 Last AG to be a KC. Retired on a pension.
17 Click Here Maurice Heenan, QC 1962-1966 Non-British-born (born in New Zealand). Crown Counsel prior to appointment. Resigned to join United Nations as Deputy Director of the General Legal Division 1966-1973, then as General Counsel for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian Refugees in Beirut 1973-1977. Died in the United States.
18 Click Here Denys Roberts, QC 1966-1973 Appointed Colonial/Chief Secretary (1973-1979) and then Chief Justice of Hong Kong. Retired on a pension.
19 Click Here John Hobley, QC 1973-1979 Served as Crown Counsel in Hong Kong 1953-1973, briefly as Attorney General of Bermuda 1972-1973 and Solicitor General of Hong Kong 1973. Retired on a pension in 1979.
20 Click Here John Griffiths, QC 1979-1983 Last non-British-born AG - born in Persia (now Iran). Entered private practice at the English and Hong Kong bars after retirement until 2012.
21 Click Here Michael Thomas, QC 1983-1988 Last QC to be AG. Entered private practice at Hong Kong and English bars after retirement.
22 Click Here Jeremy Mathews 1988 - 30 June 1997 First solicitor to be appointed AG. Last AG. Retired at end of British rule in Hong Kong.

Secretaries for Justice, 1997–present[edit]

Politiical party:   Nonpartisan   Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB)

Portrait Name Term of office Duration Chief Executive Term Ref
1 Elsie Leung.jpg Elsie Leung Oi-sie
1 July 1997 19 October 2005 8 years, 110 days Tung Chee-hwa
Donald Tsang
2 Wong Yan Lung.jpg Wong Yan-lung SC
20 October 2005 30 June 2012 6 years, 255 days
3 Rimsky Yuen 2016.jpg Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung SC
1 July 2012 Incumbent 4 years, 300 days Leung Chun-ying

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Article 53, Hong Kong Basic Law
  2. ^ Article 63, Hong Kong Basic Law