Beijing’s plan to reform Hong Kong’s administrative system to ensure only patriots govern the city is, at this stage, short on detail. Many questions arise about how the principle will be implemented. The inclusion of the judiciary – along with the executive, legislature and statutory bodies – in the shake-up has raised concerns that changes may undermine the independence of the courts. But it is not unusual for Beijing to include the judiciary in its pronouncements on the system of government. The central government, while recognising judicial independence, regards the judges as part of the city’s administration. Similar concerns were raised in 2014, when a White Paper issued by the State Council included judges among those expected to be patriotic and to fulfil the basic political requirement of loving the country. The speech this week by Xia Baolong, the top Beijing official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, did not provide details of how the reforms might affect the judiciary. More information is needed. Beijing’s inclusion of judges in its patriotism push is not surprising, but any changes should fall strictly within the Basic Law. Some have questioned the position of foreign judges. Will they fall within the definition of patriots? Many judges have foreign passports, even if they have lived in Hong Kong for years. Top overseas judges also sit part-time on the Court of Final Appeal. The foreign judges bring much-needed expertise and experience to the judiciary. Their presence helps ensure confidence in the legal system. There is, thankfully, no suggestion the plan involves preventing such judges from working. Such a drastic step would cause the quality of justice to suffer and deal a severe blow to the judiciary. The Basic Law makes it clear that judges are to be appointed on the basis of their professional qualities and “may be recruited from other common law jurisdictions”. ‘Patriots’ must hold key roles in Hong Kong government, judiciary: Beijing The appointment system, based on recommendations by an independent commission, has worked well. Only the chief justice and chief judge of the High Court are required to be Chinese citizens with no right of abode overseas. This is a much more limited nationality requirement than that imposed on government officials and lawmakers. It recognises the valuable role foreign judges have played in making the city’s judicial system one of Hong Kong’s greatest assets. Judges serve Hong Kong by faithfully and independently applying the law. That is how they show their patriotism. This might, sometimes, involve ruling against the government. That is part of the principle that everyone is equal before the law. Patriotism is said to include maintaining Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and respecting its constitutional order. To do that, a high quality, independent judiciary complete with foreign judges will be needed.