The powerful public statement issued by Hong Kong’s top judge last week ended with a warning. The judiciary and its functions must not be politicised, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-Li said. The fact that the judge felt compelled to make this plea is a sad indictment on the city’s deep political divisions and the threat they pose to judicial independence. It should serve as a wake-up call. The 18-page statement clearly set out the principles of judicial decision making, including bail, sentencing and the appeal process. Ma was at pains to stress that judges decide cases fairly and strictly in accordance with the law. There is no place for politics in the courts. His statement comes at a time when the judiciary is facing unprecedented challenges in the aftermath of last year’s civil unrest and the passing of a new national security law . Judges and magistrates face ferocious attacks and allegations of bias when their rulings fail to please one political camp or another. Such politically motivated criticism is mostly unreasonable, unfair and ill-informed. Meanwhile, pro-establishment lawmakers want a new body formed to give the judiciary guidelines on sentencing . Reference has been made to the Sentencing Council in Britain. This comprises mostly judges plus a police officer, a prosecutor, a defence barrister, a former probation officer, a criminologist and a victim support representative. But in Hong Kong, the Basic Law requires the judiciary to decide cases independently and without interference. It is at least arguable that this fundamental principle would be undermined by a sentencing council. To establish such a body for political ends at a time when society is so divided would likely spark further controversy. It took Britain years to establish its council. Issuing a guideline takes it at least two years. It should not be seen as a quick fix for those displeased with this or that judgment. Will a sentencing council redress claims of judicial bias in Hong Kong? One of council’s functions in Britain is to promote understanding of sentencing principles, including through social media and educational packs for schools. Hong Kong’s judiciary should develop creative ways to make its work better understood by the public. Sentencing is not easy. Numerous factors must be weighed and each case is different. Ma rightly stressed this was a judicial function. Such decisions are best made by the city’s highly trained and independent judges. Ma pointed out that there is a sophisticated system of review. If the prosecution disagrees with a bail decision or a sentence, it can appeal. There is also a responsibility on prosecutors to provide courts with sufficient evidence if they wish to oppose bail. There would be no rule of law in Hong Kong without an independent judiciary. The city’s judges, in these difficult times, need and deserve support from officials, lawmakers and the public.