TOC Editorial: Congratulations Prof Michael Hor, Incoming HKU Law Dean
(Image from Singapore Straits Times)
One of Singapore’s foremost criminal law academics has been confirmed as the incoming Dean of the Hong Kong University (HKU) Faculty of Law.
Hong Kong newspapers had been speculating on Prof Michael Hor’s appointment for the last few months, but public confirmation of Prof Hor’s appointment came via the South China Morning Post this morning.
HKU’s gain is Singapore’s loss.
Prof Hor is one of the most outspoken academics in Singapore on issues of criminal justice, having written extensively (and critically) on constitutional due process, detention without trial, the numerous presumptions in Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act as well as Section 377A of the Penal Code.
Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, Prof Hor studied law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1984, and subsequently obtained his BCL at Oxford University and LLM at Chicago University.
Prof Hor served in the Singapore Legal Service from 1984 – 1987, serving in various positions including a stint as the State Coroner.
Unique amongst his colleagues, Prof Hor has not confined his views to academia and has ventured out to share his opinions on more public and non-traditional platforms.
In 2007, at the height of public debate on the abolition of Section 377A, Prof Hor authored a widely cited article on The Online Citizen coming out strongly against its continued retention, writing:
“Employment of the criminal law to prohibit activity which the government does not really think ought to be prohibited, on the sole basis that “the majority” wants it to be prohibited, is fraught with danger. The moral force of the criminal law is blunted if there are crimes which are, the government assures the public, never to be enforced, and its “perpetrators” never brought to court and punished.
It demeans the individual to have his behaviour, which is presumably important to him and which the government does not think is harmful to society, to be labeled a crime, and him a criminal. The criminal laws are the ground rules of our society and if it is to be accorded the respect it deserves, it must be reserved for conduct which the government considers to be clearly harmful to society.”
More recently, Prof Hor spoke publicly about detention without trial in the context of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.
In comments to the SCMP, Prof Hor has suggested that he will carry out his new appointment with his characteristic candour and openness:
“Essential to any faculty, indeed any university of any note, is the protection of the freedom of thought and conscience, of speech and expression, of assembly and association, and with it the freedom of academic endeavour”
Prof Hor will have a tough act to follow and some balancing to maintain even as he settles into his administrative roles in HKU Faculty of Law.
Outgoing Dean Professor Johannes Chan has been at the forefront of the push for universal suffrage in Hong Kong and has been a robust proponent of human rights despite pressure from mainland China.
We have faith that Prof Hor will be more than up to the task.
Prof Hor has the academic gravitas and the progressive credentials to nurture a vibrant academic community at the forefront of Hong Kong society. Most importantly, Prof Hor is an intellectual liberal in the most fundamental sense of the term, happy to stake out his positions and why he holds them, while always maintaining an intellectual openness and security to debate differing views.
Our only reservation in seeing Prof Hor taking up his new position is the opportunity cost to Singapore.
We are a society in the midst of several important debates about changes to legislation which will impact freedom of speech and the very live issue of constitutional equality.
These debates will benefit from continuing to have Prof Hor’s public input. We can only hope, in moving on to greener pastures in Hong Kong, our friend from Ipoh will not leave Singapore and the causes he cares for behind.
Bon voyage, Michael.