The fear that Britain will withdraw its judges from Hong Kong’s top court remains, despite a welcome decision in August that they would be allowed to stay. This week, members of parliament are scheduled to discuss the role of the judges in a “Westminster Hall” debate led by former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, an outspoken critic of Beijing. There have been renewed concerns in Hong Kong legal circles that Britain might yet take the drastic step of removing its judges, who have been sitting part-time on the Court of Final Appeal for almost 25 years. The service of the eight eminent serving and retired British judges continues to be controversial in the UK, almost two years after Beijing’s passing of a national security law. That law was recently used to target British-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, prompting a backlash. The International Bar Association last week called on the world to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong. The former editor of The Daily Telegraph , Charles Moore, referred to the controversy when questioning the presence of British judges in the city last week. Concerns were also raised in February when former opposition lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung was jailed for contempt over a protest in the legislature in 2020. His conviction was made possible by a landmark judgment of the top court delivered by judges including Robert Reed, president of Britain’s Supreme Court. The Times quoted a former British cabinet minister as saying the country’s judges in Hong Kong were in danger of “being used as a fig leaf for an oppressive regime”. Another politician branded them “useful idiots”. Ex-Bar Association chairman leaves Hong Kong for UK after meeting with police But there is strong support for the judges among members of Hong Kong’s legal community, who care just as much as their counterparts in Britain about human rights and the rule of law. Their views should not be dismissed lightly. The foreign judges have an important role to play in ensuring Hong Kong’s judiciary remains independent. Certainly, their continued service makes it easier for the government to argue all is well with the legal system. But their presence brings a measure of reassurance to people in Hong Kong. The hope is they will help ensure the city’s courts consider cases freely and fairly. To show they are much more than a “fig leaf” for Beijing, the judges must be allowed to exert influence. The courts have a duty to interpret the national security law with reference to the city’s protection of rights and freedoms. Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung has suggested foreign judges might sit on national security cases, causing concern in the UK. But in Hong Kong, many would see it as a positive move. Overseas judges take the same oath as their local counterparts. There is no reason why they should not bring their expertise to bear on national security cases. The chief executive should reveal whether she has approved any of them to do so. Hong Kong Bar chief picked for seat on selection panel for city’s judges Foreign judges have, in the past, delivered their own judgments, even the leading ruling. There is a tendency now for them to simply state they agree with the judgment of the court, although they would have provided input. The foreign judges should be prepared to express their own views and deliver dissenting judgments if they feel that is right. They bring a different perspective and should not shy away from expressing it. As for the government, it needs to be aware of the likely international reaction to its actions. The targeting of Hong Kong Watch provided its critics with fresh ammunition. The recent rejection of a prominent barrister proposed for service on a judicial appointments committee does not help. The judiciary faces challenges. But British judges should be allowed to continue serving in Hong Kong for as long as they have confidence in the legal system. Removing them now would amount to abandoning the city. A top Beijing official recently said the common law would survive beyond the 2047 deadline. Foreign judges will, hopefully, be here for the long term, helping to uphold judicial independence and the protection of human rights.