Civil servants in many departments are being required to achieve Chinese-language standards that are so low they are virtually useless, a judge heard yesterday. The intermediate-level standard required of some officers wishing to join the permanent establishment was branded as ludicrous by Michael Scott, who is fighting on behalf of expatriate officers to have the language barrier removed. Mr Justice Nicholas Barnett suggested it 'perhaps enables expatriates to converse with each other in what they laughingly call Cantonese, but would not get them far at the local dai pai dong'. The judge is considering a Court of First Instance challenge by the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants to the requirement to have a certain ability in Chinese before switching to permanent and pensionable terms. Mr Scott, the association's vice-president, said the low intermediate standard undermined the Government's claim that the aim of the policy was to provide a truly bilingual service. He argues that the real motive for the language test is to drive expatriates out of the civil service by placing obstacles in the way of those who wish to claim pension rights. 'The intermediate level of Cantonese is virtually useless. You have minimal proficiency only,' Mr Scott told the judge. Dealing with government claims of wanting to achieve a bilingual service he said: 'It seems to me the intermediate level of Cantonese would not achieve this purpose.' Joseph Fok, for the Government, denied there were any improper motives behind the scheme. Mr Fok said the Government had for many years pursued a policy of promoting a bilingual civil service. The expatriate civil servants argue that the language requirement is discriminatory and is contrary to the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. The oral intermediate-level exam is used by 13 departments for posts including medical and health officer, telecommunications engineer, architect, auditor, estate surveyor, air traffic controller and engineer. Other departments insist on written and oral proficiency at Form Five level for officers wishing to join the permanent establishment. Since the new measures were introduced last November, 12 overseas officers have been accepted after passing the intermediate exam, eight have passed the Form Five requirement and 17 have been exempted from the language test. The case continues today.