A top American judge told members of the legal community yesterday of the importance of everyone being equal before the law. But Elsie Leung Oi-sie was not present at the High Court to hear his comments. She had not taken up her invitation to the lecture given by Anthony Kennedy, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. The judge, addressing the issue of judicial independence, said: 'The law is a promise. It is a promise of neutrality. 'If the promise is broken, if neutrality itself does not prevail, then the law as we know it, as we respect it, ceases to exist.' This first became apparent in England where, even 1,000 years ago, a person 'shared with his fellow citizens the inheritance in a law which applied equally', he said. The judge stressed the role of an independent judiciary in protecting human rights and ensuring that judges' decisions were made according to legal rather than to political concepts. He expressed his admiration for the efforts of the legal community to preserve the rule of law. 'You must speak justice to society. You must speak truth to power. If you do, when the history of this time is written, then it will likely say to future generations that because of what you did here, freedom prevails in Hong Kong,' he said. Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, speaking after the judge, said an independent judiciary upholding the rule of law and safeguarding freedoms was a pivotal institution in Hong Kong's separate system.