LEGISLATORS yesterday accused the Government of dishonesty over the Court of Final Appeal draft bill. They said officials deliberately attempted to mislead the public by describing the bill as an 'elaboration' rather than a 'violation' of the Joint Declaration. Democratic Party chairman and barrister Martin Lee Chu-ming said the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law gave the court the discretion to invite overseas judges to sit on the court 'according to its need'. But the bill, to be tabled in the Legislative Council early next year, allowed the court to have no more than one overseas judge, which was an unreasonable and invalid restriction on the power of the court, he told the Constitutional Affairs Panel. The bill, modelled on a 1991 Sino-British agreement on the composition of the court, deviated from the word and spirit of the Joint Declaration. 'The British Hong Kong Government is very dishonest to say the agreement is only a specification of the provisions of the Joint Declaration,' Mr Lee said. 'It is actually an agreement to amend the Declaration. 'The Government is deliberately misleading the public by saying this is a matter of interpretation.' In 1988, then attorney-general Michael Thomas told the Bar Association the court would have the full power to invite overseas judges, Mr Lee said. Legislator Jimmy McGregor questioned why the Government did not copy the exact wording of the Joint Declaration into the bill, thus allowing the court to have maximum flexibility in picking judges. The panel will invite Mr Thomas to future meetings to see whether there is any inconsistency in the Government's position. Government representatives maintained the bill was consistent with the Joint Declaration, according to legal advice given to the British Government. Deputy Director of Administration Alan Lai Nin said the Joint Declaration had laid only a broad framework for the court. The detailed composition and working would have to be defined through more detailed legislative provisions. The 1991 agreement was an effort by the Chinese and British governments to work out the specifics, Mr Lai said. 'It would be strange to think the two sovereign countries would negotiate a follow-up agreement to contravene their original one.' Legislators urged the Government to clarify with China whether judges on the court could retain their position after 1997.