THE Court of Appeal's ruling that the practice of issuing summonses in a language incomprehensible to a defendant does not breach the Bill of Rights may be correct - but that may say more about the technical focus of much legal argument than about the fairness of the law. The reasons for the ruling have yet to be made clear. No doubt the legal case is watertight according to the involved logic by which such matters are decided. But to the 'reasonable man' whose views are supposed to be the foundation of good law, it is absurd and unfair to argue, as the Crown did yesterday, that it is enough for the charges to be explained to the defendant in Cantonese once he arrives in court. It is pernicious to issue summonses in English to non-English speakers. The survival of this practice for more than 150 years does not make it right. Equally, the decision to issue bi-lingual summonses from April this year does not justify the present discriminatory system. It is not only the charges which are not in Chinese: even the order to appear in court is in English. One judge said yesterday nobody would be sent to jail for contempt of court for failing to appear in such circumstances. But his statement is something less than a cast-iron assurance. Article 11(2) of the Bill of Rights requires that a defendant be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against him in a language he understands. To hold, as the court did, that 'promptly' does not mean immediately shows a curious understanding of language. The ruling saves the legal system the embarrassment of considering how many judgments may have been unsound as the result of incomprehensible summonses over the years. But it cannot be argued that justice has been served. It is one of the uglier hangovers of the colonial past that English should remain the exclusive language of such a large part of the courts' procedures. There are excellent reasons why English should remain one of the two official languages of the courts, for the law is so bound up in the interpretation of English words that the satisfactory Chinese translation of the whole Common Law is an almost unattainable goal. But there can be no excuse for allowing the legal system to discriminate against many local people by running a courts system which suits a largely foreign-educated elite.