The chief justice of Hong Kong has said the rule of law in Hong Kong still exists despite political unrest and pressures from Beijing – but warned of the challenge of maintaining public confidence.

Speaking at an event organised by the Bar Council, Geoffrey Ma reflected on the strength of the rule of law in the region the wake of recent developments such as the Chinese government's suggestion last summer that judges should be patriotic and act as ‘administrators’.

Ma said that international yardsticks such as transparency and the appointment of judges by professional qualities show that the rule of law does exist in Hong Kong. 

However he said that the defiance of protesters last summer to comply with a court ruling ordering the roads to be cleared did raise concerns about public confidence in the rule of law. 

‘People ask: "what is the rule of law if people just disobey?"’ he said. 

Although criminals break the law, Ma warned that when the general public lose respect for the rule of law it is worrying.

‘There is a challenge to maintain confidence in the rule of law,’ he said. 

But Ma said that although the court did rule for the occupy movement to end, he stressed that what was important was that protesters had their day in court and argued their case.

He also praised any discussions or debates about the rule of law in Hong Kong, which he said was ‘healthy’.

‘It is the price we pay to enjoy the rule of law,’ Ma said.