There are many benefits to being a judge, but freedom of expression is not one of them. Judges are not allowed to express their views in public for fear of undermining confidence in their independence. The only time judges and magistrates can speak out is when presiding over court cases. As a court reporter, I appreciated those who put this to good use. The more controversial their comments, the better the story. Their remarks rarely caused a scandal. But now, with Hong Kong gripped by political tensions, judges have to be careful what they say in court as well as out of it. Their words are subjected to scrutiny by both sides of the political divide for perceived signs of bias. This week, the judiciary cleared a magistrate who faced complaints that he was politically motivated. It is the latest response from the courts to a barrage of criticism and threats targeting those involved in deciding politically sensitive cases. One of the allegations against Magistrate Cheang Kei-hong related to language he used in the case of an elderly man who assaulted pan-democrat politician “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung with a chisel. Cheang was accused of showing undue sympathy for the defendant, endorsing political violence and being biased. These are very serious allegations. But they are not substantiated by the excerpt from the proceedings included in the judiciary’s report. Cheang’s remark that the defendant seemed to “love this society” does appear odd given that the assailant had clearly expressed support for political violence in an earlier exchange with the magistrate. But the comment was made when he was considering seeking a community service report. The magistrate made it clear violence was not an acceptable way of dealing with political differences. Ultimately, he jailed the 81-year-old for three months and six days. Having reviewed this and two other cases, the chief magistrate decided the complaints against Cheang were unsubstantiated. Earlier investigations by the judiciary into complaints against two other magistrates, this time accused of bias in favour of protesters, also led to them being cleared. The judiciary is trying to respond to a difficult situation by improving transparency. Summaries of rulings in prominent cases are published as are the results of its reviews of complaints. But there is only so much it can do. Those responsible for politically motivated attacks on the judges are not interested in their reasoning or application of the law – they are only concerned about whether their side won or lost. Judges might have to mind their language and are not above reasoned criticism. But attempts to politicise the judiciary must stop. The courts need to be left alone to get on with the job of deciding cases freely, fairly and in accordance with the law.