As they say, justice should not only be done, but also be seen to be done. That is why everyone should welcome the expansion of the number of foreign judges at the Court of Final Appeal from 12 to 14.
It’s an added bonus that the latest additions are two female justices of impeccable reputation from the British Commonwealth, the first time the city has women sitting at the highest court.
Hong Kong’s legal system has been under assault both domestically and from foreign bodies. Activists from both opposition and government-friendly camps have rounded on judges with personal attacks for delivering rulings not to their liking.
This is perhaps unavoidable, given the deep divisions that have marred the city since the Occupy protests in 2014 and the Lunar New Year riot in 2016. Our judges must be doing something right when they manage to upset people from both sides.
Meanwhile, foreign groups and politicians such as Amnesty International, Benedict Rogers of Hong Kong Watch, British politician Paddy Ashdown and US senator Marco Rubio have cast aspersions on our legal system, either out of ignorance, malice or both.
Their sustained attacks, well-meaning or not, have given those overseas who only read Western news sources the impression that the city operates kangaroo courts at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party. This cannot be further from the truth.
However, legal judgments are complicated; those foreign busybodies are well-versed in giving sound bites, which are hard to counter in foreign media. Some local leftists and their media allies have advocated ejecting all foreign judges to make room for local ones.
Unless they want to launch another Cultural Revolution, it’s a boneheaded and dangerous idea. I have no doubt that we can fill the top court with competent locals, but appearance counts as much as substance in the administration of justice.
Baroness Brenda Hale is currently president of the British Supreme Court. Beverley McLachlin was until recently the chief justice of Canada. In a rare consensus, people across the political divide have welcome their appointment.
Our independent judiciary is a key pillar that helps preserve Hong Kong’s international standing at a time when the legitimacy and credibility of other institutions in society are constantly being questioned and undermined. Like it or not, having respected foreign judges helps – a lot.