In Memoriam: Professor Julius Yam, 1992-2024

It is with deep sorrow that we announce the tragic and premature passing of our beloved colleague Julius Yam on 19 March 2024. He was at peace and surrounded by family and friends.

Julius graduated with first class honours from the University of Hong Kong, receiving his LLB in 2015, and then went on to obtain an LLM from the University of Chicago (2017) and a DPhil in Law from Trinity College, University of Oxford (2022). His postgraduate studies were funded by the RC Lee Centenary Scholarship. Julius joined our faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2021. He held visiting positions at the University of New South Wales, University of Melbourne, Max Planck Fellow Group in Comparative Constitutionalism, and University of Göttingen. He was Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Hong Kong Law Journal and a Research Associate on the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government, University of Oxford. He won the Faculty Outstanding Teaching Award in 2023.

Julius was a brilliant researcher. Inspired by an era in which the world was experiencing democratic backsliding, he was driven by a passion to find ways to build and rebuild liberal constitutionalism. His research focused on how courts in hybrid regimes – regimes that are neither fully authoritarian nor fully democratic – can sustainably advance liberal constitutionalism. His recent article in the Modern Law Review, “Judging Under Authoritarianism,” proposes a ground-breaking approach for judges, showing how they can both be faithful to the law and take prudential considerations into account. At the time of his death, Julius had just completed his monograph Judging for Democracy, which offers an erudite and innovative account of how courts in hybrid regimes can shore up democratic norms both inside and outside the courtroom. He firmly believed judicial agency to be possible even in politically constrained environments. Although most of his published works focused on the courts, his concern with creating an equitable and pluralistic society was much broader: he argued for amnesty for street protestors, submitted a policy paper on the regulation of crowdfunding and, in his final months, secured a research grant for a project that investigates, amongst other things, how political crowdfunding can potentially help to alleviate political inequality in nondemocratic contexts. His research, including numerous articles in leading journals, has been internationally recognized.

Julius’s ideas and approach as a scholar reflect not only his enormous talent but also a rare combination of remarkable qualities. He was pragmatic yet principled: although he recognized that we have to work within constraints, he never compromised on his values. (“Departure from the formal legal position” is unjustified for the courts, he wrote, even when the risk of political backlash is high if such departure would “cross a moral baseline.” (MLR 16)) Julius had big ideas, worked on important questions, was unconstrained by orthodoxy and, atypically of a legal academic, drew on a wide range of methodologies, including those of law, political theory and science, sociology, and psychology. Yet his boldness and breadth did not prevent him from delivering work of first-class rigour and depth: he never settled for less than cogent arguments, his analysis was sophisticated and nuanced, and he engaged thoroughly with objections. His commitment to excellence in his work lasted through to his final days. Julius was strong and determined, but also sensitive and perceptive. He never shied away from debate but was at all times civil, considerate, and thoughtful. While keenly aware of adversity and worldwide injustice, he never lost hope and faced them with great courage and humour. He had a global vision but his heart was always in Hong Kong. It was his home, the place that drove and galvanized his work.

This is how colleagues will always remember Julius: as confident, forthright, unconventional, authentic, witty, full of hope, and bursting with energy, questions, and solutions. Within a short span of time, he made many friends in the local and international academy. We will sorely miss his distinct voice in constitutional law, his sharp questions during workshops, the twinkle in his eye when an idea came to him, his warm smile, his attentiveness when listening to others, his tremendous generosity in helping out, sharing advice, or offering comments on colleagues’ work, his empathy, and our many frank and enjoyable conversations on anything and everything. His students will miss a knowledgeable and dedicated teacher who made complex subjects accessible and who truly cared for their well-being. He valued each and every student and sought to instil a sense of purpose in learning. Julius’s career traversed a period in which in-person teaching was a challenge but he always went above and beyond in caring for his students.

The seriousness with which Julius approached life extended well beyond academe: he was the go-to person for advice on everything from fine quality food and drink to film, fashion, décor, and travel, to name just a few of his many realms of interest. Julius had an eye for all things beautiful. He touched people’s hearts because he was genuine, and he got to the heart of life because he was true to himself. He led precisely the kind of life he wanted.

The law faculty, academia and the world have lost a true star. We offer our deepest condolences to Julius’s loved ones, his partner Jacq, parents Agnes and Bryan, and brother Felix in particular. As we mourn the departure of a wonderful friend and scholar, we honour and celebrate his legacy – a legacy of distinguished constitutional law scholarship, of richness in life, and of hope.

Cora Chan
Associate Professor
Faculty of Law
The University of Hong Kong
Hualing Fu
Dean and Warren Chan Professor in
Human Rights and Responsibilities
Faculty of Law
The University of Hong Kong


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