The UK Supreme Court's president, who also sits on Hong Kong's top court, has dismissed worries over demands in Beijing's white paper for local judges to be patriotic, saying the requirement is "not inconsistent" with judicial independence.
"I wonder if there is anything to worry about in the white paper," Lord Neuberger said in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.
Neuberger, a non-permanent judge on the city's Court of Final Appeal since 2009, said judges were expected to be patriotic to the extent that they took an oath of allegiance. "I took an oath to bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC," he added.
"Judicial independence is not inconsistent with judicial patriotism. The way in which judges demonstrate their patriotism is by an irrevocable and undiluted commitment to the rule of law."
Neuberger's position stood in contrast to the cautious attitude displayed by Andrew Li Kwok-nang, chief justice for 13 years before he stepped down in 2011.
Li said in an article this month that the patriotism referred to in the white paper had been widely perceived as meaning "supportive of and cooperating with" the central and local governments, and protecting their interests. He said judges should not be pro or anti anyone "under the principle of judicial independence".
The present chief justice, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, has said he shared Li's views. Until yesterday, other serving judges had remained silent on the issue.
Neuberger, 66, said he saw "no present problem" with the city's rule of law. He later added that he "might resign" from the Court of Final Appeal if he felt the rule of law was undermined.
The white paper, released in June, drew some 1,800 lawyers onto the streets in protest amid fears that the rule of law was being jeopardised.
The paper also called judges "administrators" of Hong Kong, prompting worries about the separation of executive and judicial powers. On this, Neuberger said words "are slippery things".
"The word 'government' can be properly used to mean the executive arm of the government alone or all three branches of the government including the judiciary [and legislature]. The word 'administration' is similar."