The Insider Dealing Tribunal is challenging a landmark ruling that it botched a probe into the activities of Paragon Holdings and CNPC (Hong Kong) by holding secret meetings and taking evidence behind closed doors. The inquiry findings were quashed by a judge and banned from being made public after the tribunal chairman was slated for flouting open justice. However, a bid to overturn the judge's decision was launched at the Court of Appeal yesterday, with counsel for the tribunal arguing the body acted within its limits. Mr Justice Raymond Sears ruled in March that 39 hours of clandestine meetings between the tribunal and its legal counsel took place, a draft report was destroyed on the tribunal's orders, and the body took evidence behind closed doors. Then chairman of the tribunal Mr Justice David Yam Yee-kwan was criticised for suggesting a birthday card be sent to a female witness and for using legal counsel Peter Davies to 'ghost write' the final report. He further came under fire for taking nine months to deliver the report to the Financial Secretary. The 1996 hearing was estimated to have cost taxpayers $40 million. The conduct of the tribunal only came to light when Malaysian businessman Tan Leong Min of Paragon became the victim of a 'spiteful prosecution' for failing to attend hearings, Mr Justice Sears ruled. The tribunal argued yesterday, however, that their legal counsel was sanctioned by law to assist on all aspects of insider-dealing cases except the ultimate findings and decision. Geoffrey Ma SC, told three appeal judges: 'The meetings in private between the tribunal and counsel were clearly within acceptable bounds.' As a matter of law, there was nothing wrong with counsel having private meetings, discussing evidence with the tribunal, giving their views to the body and even commenting on contents of draft reports, he said. Gerard McCoy SC, for Mr Tan, disputed this opinion. 'It is a public hearing. Otherwise we have insider dealing by the insider-dealing tribunal which is what happened.' Moreover, 'counsel has no special right to go round the back and influence the tribunal', the barrister said. The case had far-reaching implications, he said. 'The world won't come to a standstill if the judge's ruling is upheld.' The tribunal can still direct inquiries, get legal submissions and have counsel study the evidence. 'There's very little point in calling this an inquiry if the most important part happens out the back,' Mr McCoy said. The case, before Mr Justices Barry Mortimer, Gerald Godfrey and Anthony Rogers continues today.