CHIEF Justice Sir Ti Liang Yang has endorsed mainland plans to reduce the power of the Bill of Rights, a senior Chinese official claimed yesterday. Xinhua (New China News Agency) Deputy Director Zhang Junsheng said Sir Ti Liang told him the existing bill had undermined the territory's legal system. Admitting he had discussed the issue with Mr Zhang at a social function on October 24, Sir Ti Liang yesterday said they were 'casual remarks' of which he could not recall the specifics. But he offered to apologise to the Hong Kong public if he had caused offence. According to Mr Zhang, Sir Ti Liang said Hong Kong's two-tier legal system - comprising the Basic Law and ordinary legislation - had been turned into a three-tier system because of the Bill of Rights, which should not exist. 'He told me in person that the Bill of Rights has undermined Hong Kong's legal system,' he said. 'On his public remarks that the issue should be left to the future SAR [Special Administrative Region] government, we understand the difficulties he is facing. He has to make such comments.' But, when questioned again yesterday about his official view of the rights bill controversy, the Chief Justice was back to his earlier, equivocal stance. The comments made to Mr Zhang had been casual, not well thought-out, and did not represent his final position. 'If I had known they would be unveiled in public, I would have chosen my words more carefully and done some research before making them,' he said. 'I've learned a lesson. I didn't imagine that what I said at an informal gathering would be disclosed. In future, I'll not talk too much, even with my friends.' Perhaps stung by saying too much, Sir Ti Liang was even backtracking yesterday on comments he made two weeks ago that the SAR government should decide on the bill's powers after the handover, merely saying the Judiciary should refrain from commenting on sensitive issues. 'We don't deal with political and controversial issues and I would like to preserve this tradition,' he said. But he rejected suggestions by Mr Zhang that he was forced, as a member of the British Hong Kong administration, to speak up for the bill. 'I can say categorically that there is no pressure on me to say anything, none whatsoever.' Sir Ti Liang has been tipped as a leading candidate to be Hong Kong's first SAR chief executive. He refused to say yesterday if his experience with Mr Zhang would affect his future contacts with the Chinese, or whether it had tarnished his image. 'I never think of my own image because it's what other people think. I just do whatever I think I should do,' he said. But when asked if the revelations had angered him, he answered: 'You can tell from just looking at my face.' Independent legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing criticised Sir Ti Liang for being careless, but refused to call for his resignation. She said his comments would strengthen the Chinese side's resolve to dilute the bill. 'As Chief Justice, he should not make comments that are not carefully considered,' she said. Since the Preliminary Working Committee recommended last month to strip the bill's overriding status, the Governor and his senior officials have criticised the move and called on China to abandon the plan. WHAT THE CHIEF JUSTICE HAS SAID - ON THE RECORD OCTOBER 23: 'The issue has become too politicised and emotional for members of the Judiciary to comment' OCTOBER 30: 'The Bill of Rights appears to be a matter for Hong Kong . . . Can we not leave it to the SAR for study?' YESTERDAY: 'Judicial officers do not deal with political issues and I would like to preserve this tradition'