WHERE the Attorney-General is concerned, I have no problem. Any man who can appear from behind a bush and say 'Stuart, now what about my underpants', gets my vote. The incident took place a year ago in the garden of the Dutch Consul-General. The Dutch are unusually tolerant of these sorts of things. Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews had been doused with black ink by a man protesting over one of the several issues involving him. I had revealed that Mathews' clothing, including his underwear of the day, would have to be submitted in evidence to the magistrate's court which was trying the protester. It was on the occasion of the celebration of Queen Beatrix's birthday that he finally cornered me in the undergrowth. It is a neat analogy of Mathews' career that he should be the one to be stripped naked in public over the practice of briefing-out. When his marriage collapsed, he was persuaded to bare it all on the front page of the newspaper. So it has been with the case of the barrister who left the Legal Department for private practice and still coined in more than $17 million in brief fees from the department working on a complex commercial crime. It is typical of Mathews' luck that he should be the Attorney-General caught with ink on his underpants over a matter like this. Briefing-out is a way of life in the Legal Department which is as remote to me as life in the Davidian sect. Stacked as they are with qualified lawyers, there seems a need to trawl the streets for more, at immense cost to the taxpayers. Ask a newspaper editor if he or she will seek out freelancers and pay a fee for something that can be written by a staff member and the laughter will ring to the rafters. Unfortunately for Mathews, he is the Attorney-General snatched by the searchlight handing out the money. The fact that it was an unfortunate import, Director of Public Prosecutions John Wood, who did the dealing matters not a wig box since he is back in England in comfortable retirement, being gratuitously rude about the barrister here appointed to look into the case. While we are at it, should the public think the $17 million case is an isolated one, we can pluck from the annals of the Legal Aid Department the case of the Sek Kong murders which, at one point, had up to 14 private barristers being paid $10,000-a-day 'refreshers' to defend the accused Vietnamese. I understand mortgage repayments across the Western world were refreshed mightily as well. At one point in the trial, the prosecutor resigned from the Legal Department, went to the private bar - and was still retained to prosecute the case at an undisclosed fee. Such were the complexities of the trial, constructed again by Wood, that frequent adjournments over points of law or the Vietnamese translator's morning sickness meant counsel might only need to be 'refreshed' for 15 minutes in front of the judge before they were let out in the street.. That trial has been interred in the casket of legal memory and the Children Of The Notebook seem to have forgotten about it, too. The point about the trial and about Graham Grant's $17 million is that nobody is very much at fault: it is the way the law is structured and the price we will continually have to pay for it. Emily Lau Wai-hing, now a legislator but formerly a journalist, reached her customary Screech Level Three over the Grant case because she failed to suppress her incredulity that anyone could be paid so much money for anything. The problem of comprehension for her, like me, is that journalists and writers are not - and never will be - paid that sort of money for anything, ever. All around journalists in this town, professional people and businessmen are being paid incalculable amounts of money every day for more or less everything. Journalists on salaries find this difficult to conceptualise, particularly if they are employed on some Chinese newspapers where pay rates are so low, the next step will be for the journalists to pay the proprietor for the privilege of working there. My concern is not so much with the Legal Department as with the judiciary and a state of mind in there which, perhaps, only a psychiatrist and not even that terrier legal administrator Alice Tam can be expected to sort out. My suspicions as to the judiciary's possibly less than total sanity were aroused some years ago by the Carrian trial. The then Chief Justice, Sir Denys Emile Tudor Roberts (parents with a sense of humour, clearly), selected Mr Justice Barker as the trial judge. Poor old Barker was not the horse for the course. He was much happier in the Bowling Alley Bar of the Hong Kong Club than sitting up on his bench trying to grapple with the indigestible minutae of Carrian. Barker was voicing aloud weeks before the trial ended that he might have to come up with what he eventually did: 'no case to answer' - a judgment met with near disbelief by legal commentators. Why Roberts put him up there in the first place remains an unsettling mystery. Up to date now, there is nothing mysterious about the doings of Mr Justice Power, a vice-president of the Court of Appeal and another puzzlement in the judiciary. Noel Power is chairman of the Hong Kong Wine Society, and is regularly seen on camera putting down considerable amounts of the stuff. The days when judges were only members of certain clubs, never went out in public, and had other dinner party guests screened in advance have clearly gone (even if they were ever here where Hong Kong was concerned). Still, it is startling, even now, to walk into a commercial wine promotion and see Power in a red apron and baseball cap dispensing red infuriator to all and sundry. One might have asked Governor Chris Patten what he thought about it had he not been pictured on the society pages also gulping the stuff down next to the rosily red judge. For me, if not Emily Lau, this creates much more of a problem than Grant's $17 million. Against that sort of background what do details over a Court of Final Appeal matter? When it is finally constituted, just roll out the barrel!