HONG KONG'S 'flying judge' glided into retirement yesterday after soaring to the heights of his profession during a 31-year career in the territory. Mr Justice Ross Penlington, former director of public prosecutions and a Court of Appeal judge since 1988, enjoyed relaxing after a week in court by indulging his passion for flying. Yesterday he hung up his wig and gown after sitting on the bench for the last time. But he plans an active retirement in his native New Zealand where, at the age of 64, he intends to take up a new sport - gliding. Judges and lawyers crammed into Supreme Court No 1 to pay tribute to the judge. 'I only hope I am not paying everybody's fees,' he said. The judge was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and came to Hong Kong in 1964 after being attorney-general in Western Samoa, becoming director of public prosecutions in 1975 and a judge in 1977. Mr Justice Penlington was involved with many charitable organisations, including Friends of the Earth and was honorary Air Commodore for the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force from 1983. Grenville Cross QC, speaking for the Attorney-General's Chambers, said he had 'established a judicial reputation which is second to none'. Mr Cross said the judge was firm when the occasion required but also sympathetic to the underdog when possible. Any defendant tried by him received a full and fair disposal of his case. 'There can perhaps be no higher tribute paid to any judge.' Clive Grossman QC, speaking on behalf of the Bar Association, said the judge had won admiration and respect for the great contribution he had made to jurisprudence in Hong Kong. His abilities would be sorely missed as the territory moves towards 1997, Mr Grossman added. Chairman of the Law Society Roderick Woo-bun said: 'With his departure Hong Kong stands to lose a good judge, a caring friend, a good flier and seasoned snooker player.' He added: 'He has never lost that human touch because a judge is involved with people and their lives. Judges like him enhance the image of the judiciary and give the public confidence in our legal system.' Chief Justice Sir Ti Liang Yang paid tribute to Mr Justice Penlington's 'sterling' qualities. The judge had dedicated himself to the law and demonstrated his commitment to the community, he added. Mr Justice Penlington said Hong Kong had been very good to him and his wife, Valerie, adding: 'It could have been a little bit better if I had been wise enough to purchase some real estate here.' The judge said he was sure Hong Kong would continue to prosper in the challenging times ahead.