Error 'undermines confidence' The city's top court has severely criticised a prominent judge who issued two conflicting decisions in the same case eight months apart and then retracted one of them when the error was pointed out to him. Mr Justice Pang Kin-kee's 'unprecedented' flip-flop earlier this year must never happen again or Hong Kong's legal system could be thrown into disrepute, the Court of Final Appeal warned in a judgment yesterday. 'Such a mistake adversely affects public confidence in the administration of justice. It is our duty to state that a mistake of this kind must not be allowed to recur at any level of court.' The Court of First Instance judge, who is also chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, was summoned to a meeting with Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang for a dressing down over the blunders. Mr Justice Pang 'acknowledged the court's criticism' and apologised for the mistake and delay in handing down his judgment. He gave 'the strongest assurances' to Mr Justice Li that his error would not be repeated, according to a statement issued by the judiciary. It said no action would be taken against Mr Justice Pang. The case that prompted the criticism began in September last year after a magistrate convicted Tin's Label Factory of operating an unsafe screen-printing machine and fined the company HK$25,000. In an oral ruling, Mr Justice Pang granted the factory's appeal and overturned the conviction, finding errors with the magistrate's handling of the case. In May, the judge issued written reasons for his decision, a common process when judges make verbal rulings from the bench. This time, he dismissed the appeal because he was unable to find errors in the magistrate's judgment - the reverse of his oral ruling nearly eight months earlier. When the factory's lawyer complained, Mr Justice Pang quickly withdrew his decision. He reissued his judgment, confirming the original decision, several hours later. Judges hearing an appeal may change their minds in 'wholly exceptional and extremely rare' cases, the Court of Final Appeal said. 'The judge must exercise great caution in determining whether to alter his original decision. 'Where the judge is firmly satisfied that his previous decision was incorrect and that alteration is necessary to ensure that justice is done, alteration would be justified.' But that could not apply in this case because Mr Justice Pang simply forgot what he had ruled months earlier and didn't bother to check his records, according to yesterday's ruling by Mr Justice Li, Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu-oi, Mr Justice Roberto Ribeiro and Lord Woolf. 'The judge must have forgotten about his earlier oral ruling,' the judgment said. 'The delay in preparing his reasons must have contributed to this oversight. Such a mistake should not have been made.' The court ruled that Mr Justice Pang's first written judgment wasn't legally valid because it conflicted with his oral ruling. It dismissed an appeal by the prosecution, which was seeking to have the first written judgment upheld. 'He did not purport to change his oral decision but was purporting to give reasons for having dismissed the appeal, which had never occurred,' the justices wrote.