Only one verdict on foreign judges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 4:50am

It's debatable whether Hong Kong will survive or become just another Chinese city if we don't bend over backwards to attract talented expats. But there is one area in which the presence of foreign expertise has been a pillar of our city: the judiciary.

Ten out of the 15 non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal come from other common law jurisdictions. And that's a good thing.

Two legal heavyweights have recently floated the idea of appointing only Chinese nationals to the top court: Cheng Jie, a Tsinghua University associate law professor and former researcher for the Basic Law Committee, and Alan Hoo, chairman of the Basic Law Institute. It's understandable that countries want to keep their most important official posts, whether in the judiciary or other branches of government, to their own citizens. That's not particular to China, but most countries. It has to do with national security, but also pride.

But Hong Kong is in a unique place. Our courts still run on common law. It therefore makes sense to avail ourselves of other common law judges - regardless of their citizenship - with the experience, expertise and perhaps more importantly, the appearance of greater impartiality to inspire trust in our legal system. Like it or not, the presence of foreign judges helps achieve all those goals.

If after 2047 our legal system reverts to the mainland's, there is no question that we can - and may have to - fill up the top court with only Chinese judges, just like the US has only Americans on its Supreme Court.

Hiring foreigners to fill important official posts can be a sign of confidence, not weakness. The British government has just announced the appointment of Canadian Mark Carney as governor of the Bank of England, a first in this centuries-old institution. The American economist Stanley Fischer has been running Israel's central bank as its governor since 2005. Yes, central banking is not the judiciary. But there are similarities.

The techniques of monetary policy are the same for central banks everywhere; and the principles of common law are applicable to all jurisdictions that have adopted it. We should welcome foreign judges, not kick them out.