WE are all enjoined by supporters of the Court of Final Appeal Bill to consider the possibility of a judicial vacuum, so let us consider it now. The judicial vacuum is unique in the history of vacuums, because after it arrives there will be exactly the same number of judges in Hong Kong as there were before. Vacuity theory starts with a variety of predictions about what happens next to the CFA Bill: it is amended and withdrawn, it is amended in a way unacceptable to China and passed, or it is not amended and not passed either. The destination to which these prophecies points is that Hong Kong arrives at 1997 either with no replacement for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (which hears appeals from our Court of Appeal) or with a Final Court of Appeal which China does not like. You might suppose that in the second case the FCA would continue to function until it was replaced, but let us suppose this does not happen. Here we are in July 1997 with no Court of Final Appeal. The situation falls a good deal short of what you might think was meant by a judicial vacuum. Cases will continue to be heard. Appeals will, as now, wend their slow way to the Court of Appeal. The only cases affected will be those which, because of some difficult point of law, are subject to a further appeal. In an average year these number 10. We are not dealing here with the normal kind of appeal, in which it is alleged that the judge was in error, the verdict perverse, or the evidence incomplete. These are matters for the Court of Appeal, which is still in action. We are only considering a selection of knotty points of law. It is possible some of these points will be relevant to many people besides the actual litigants concerned, but it may not be often. We can now tally the implications of the 'judicial vacuum'. Each year of the vacuum implies disappointment for 10 litigants who might otherwise have made a further appeal. Against this, we must note the satisfaction of the 10 other litigants who won in the Court of Appeal. Meanwhile the rest of us are deprived of the clarification and improvement to the law which those 10 hearings might have produced. This assumes that the extra legal nuance added by this layer of appeals is an improvement. It is difficult to say whether this should be a serious worry unless we know how long the 'judicial vacuum' is going to last. Lightning speed is not usually a characteristic of legal proceedings. The litigant whose case had to wait for six months because a new Court of Final Appeal was being assembled would probably find this a modest fraction of the time already consumed by his legal team and their opponents. On the other hand a delay of some years would clearly be unconscionable to him and a reproach to the rest of us. Our leading local vacuumist, Mr Richard Hoare, is fond of predicting a likely vacuum duration of two to three years. Mr Hoare is the Director of Administration in the Government Secretariat, so he may be presumed to know how fast his colleagues could tackle an urgent request for a new court. However, a brief survey of historic courts suggests that this estimate is on the long side - or Mr Hoare's colleagues could try harder. World War II ended in Europe in May 1945. The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials were up and running in November of the same year. In the Far East the Japanese surrendered in August, but some outposts (including Hong Kong), did not officially yield until the following month. Trials opened in Tokyo the following January. This was not a record-breaking performance. In November 1648 it was decided that Charles I should be tried for his part in the outbreak of the Second English Civil War. The organisers had no help from modern gadgets like fax - or even a postal service. They were also hampered by numerous refusals from potential judges with conscientious objections to capital punishment, at least as applied to reigning monarchs. Nevertheless the king was tried, sentenced, and indeed decapitated in January the following year. Readers may draw their own conclusions. Mine is that the judicial vacuum is in one respect like other vacuums: there is nothing in it.