Holding an inquiry to determine whether a judge should be removed is a serious matter. Since Hong Kong came under British rule in 1842, the only time such an inquiry has been held was in 1847 following an allegation by governor Sir John Davis that chief justice J W Hulme was a drunkard. The real issue, however, was not whether the chief justice was sober. It was about a bitter rivalry between Sir John and Hulme, part personal and part official. According to historian G B Endacott, the seed of discord was sowed in a trip to Bombay the two men took together in 1844. On the return leg, to the dismay of the judge and his family, they were left behind because the war ship bringing the party back could take only the governor due to insufficient accommodation. The judge had to pay for his own passage back. What sparked off an open confrontation between the two most senior officials of the colony was Hulme's decision, in drawing up the Supreme Court rules, to give himself a six-month vacation, which Sir John considered to be excessive. A deeper issue concerned the separation of powers between the executive and judicial authorities of the colony. Sir John felt British control of the China coast was best secured by strong administrative action. He regarded the colonial magistrates as administrative officials under his instructions, while Hulme felt the governor was infringing on the independence of the judiciary. Matters came to a head in 1946 when Compton, a British merchant at Canton (now Guangzhou), was found guilty of provoking a riot and fined GBP100 by the consul, at Sir John's instruction. The businessman appealed to the Supreme Court and Hulme quashed the verdict. Sir John decided he had to get rid of Hulme. In January 1847, he wrote a long condemnation of Hulme to the Colonial Office and a private letter to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, accusing the judge of being a habitual drunkard. Sir John had hoped the Colonial Office would force Hulme's resignation, but it did not. Instead, Lord Palmerston treated the supposedly private letter from Sir John as official communication and the Colonial Office decided to hold a public inquiry into the accusation against the chief justice, despite objections from the governor. In August 1847, Sir John resigned in the face of the rebuffs. In November that year, the inquiry against Hulme was held before the Executive Council. The judge was found guilty on one count and suspended, but was vindicated on appeal. Hulme's victory over Sir John was important not only for himself, because it also laid the foundation of an independent judiciary in Hong Kong. Over the years, Hulme's ruling expounding the importance of judicial independence, hailed as a pillar of the rule of law vital to the territory's stability and prosperity, has been cited time and again. In facing up to the inquiry against him, Hulme was standing up both for himself and an independent judiciary. The question now is whether Judge Caird will stay on to clear his name or resign to avoid the inquiry, not because he is in the wrong, but because of the pressure the inquiry must bear on him. Should he resign, that will be the end of the matter for himself, but the public's nagging doubts about the case will remain unanswered and his own name will remain tarnished. If he stays on to clear his reputation, he will have to explain why he thought two other judges were trying to influence him in the Aaron Nattrass case, as disclosed by two Legal Department prosecutors to whom he confided. He will also need to explain why he raised his concerns with the prosecutors instead of his superiors in the judiciary. The inquiry will certainly exact a heavy toll on his mind and possibly his pocket if he decides to be legally represented. Which is why other judicial officers before him faced with allegations of misconduct usually opted to resign. In the latest example, an inquiry under the Colonial Regulations was to be held in March to investigate if coroner Warner Banks had breached accommodation rules by allegedly subletting his government flat to his girlfriend (now his wife). It was aborted because Banks resigned. Obviously, the judiciary has no other option but to hold an inquiry into Judge Caird's case because its reputation is at stake. The Governor, Chris Patten, said that the inquiry was needed 'precisely at this sensitive moment in Hong Kong's history to underline the reasons for confidence in the judiciary. 'I don't believe that when things like this happen you should brush them under the carpet,' he said. Where the Governor might have erred was in saying Judge Caird had made 'false allegations', when earlier announcements by the judiciary merely said the judge had magnified the importance of social conversations while suffering from insomnia. The public trusts that the judiciary's internal investigation has been conducted in the fairest manner. But public confidence will be further enhanced if the investigation report can be made public so that people can see for themselves how the conclusion was arrived at. In deciding to hold an inquiry under the Letters Patent with a brief to decide whether a judge should be removed, the Governor seems to have accepted that Judge Caird is the only person to blame for the controversy. But what the public is also concerned about is whether there really were attempts to influence him. This is a question which the judicial tribunal may not be in a position to address. The Governor should seriously consider legislators' suggestions to hold an inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Ordinance to investigate the whole incident, not just whether Judge Caird should be dismissed.