Had it not been for his reprimand by the chief justice over his U-turn on a court case, the fact that Mr Justice Pang Kin-kee holds a heavy list of public offices would probably have remained largely unnoticed. However inappropriate it may seem, society seems to have accepted that both serving and retired judges can be drawn upon to handle certain non-judicial matters at the request of the executive branch of government as and when the need arises. This is primarily because judges - and the judiciary as a whole - enjoy a high degree of respect and credibility among the populace. As society has become more politicised, and cases of conflicts of interest have grown, people look to judges as the most acceptable authority on what is right and wrong. That said, it is not difficult to understand why Mr Justice Pang's case has caused disquiet in some quarters. Last month, he was severely criticised by Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang for issuing two conflicting decisions in the same case, eight months apart. He then retracted one when the error was pointed out. Fairly or not, the media, the legal profession and legislators have linked his mistake to the fact that he holds public offices on a range of issues, from electoral matters and the post-service employment of civil servants, to covert surveillance operations by law-enforcement agencies. There have been calls for him to stand down from these positions. The case comes amid public concern about the independence and professionalism of the judiciary, and ahead of a Legislative Council panel discussion on the issue. At the opening of the legal year, on Monday, Mr Justice Li sought to set out the judiciary's position on judges serving in non-judicial public posts. He said that judicial duties would not suffer as a result of such appointments. 'If a community consensus emerges that it is no longer necessary to call on a serving judge for such an appointment, the judiciary would equally have no objection,' he said. Mr Justice Li weighed in to the debate as Mr Justice Pang's case sparked calls for a clear set of criteria over the appointment of serving judges to public offices, in particular non-judicial bodies. One line of thinking is that serving judges should not take up any non-judicial posts. Yet, the debate is likely to be inconclusive as a rigid stipulation of the rules over the government's appointment of serving judges may not be feasible. Worse, it may limit the room for flexibility over the appointment of serving judges when there is a strong case for doing so. Not surprisingly, Mr Justice Li's remarks have given rise to speculation about a political football game between the judiciary and the executive branch. Regardless of whether Mr Justice Li has a political agenda, his remarks will do more good than harm in bolstering public confidence in an independent, professional and committed judiciary. More importantly, it helps send a gentle reminder to the executive branch that the appointment of members of the judiciary should not be about administrative convenience, political expediency or hidden agendas. As Hong Kong society becomes increasingly complex, concerns have grown that independent-minded, highly respected people might be fearful of diving into the political waters. If that is the case, it may not be difficult to understand why Mr Justice Pang has emerged as what cynics have dubbed the 'king of public offices' among judges. The controversy surrounding his non-judicial work could bring about unintended damage to the image and authority of both the judiciary and the executive branch of government. Nor is it good for society in general, when independent minds are already in short supply. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.