Public funds are to be used to pay for mainlanders to fight a court battle to be allowed to stay in Hong Kong. Legal aid was yesterday offered to seven people who have overstayed on their two-way permits in the hope they could claim right of abode. The Legal Aid Department said: 'Legal aid has been offered to seven mainland overstayers who were being detained and had been issued with removal orders by the Immigration Department.' The decision is expected to prompt a surge of similar applications from other mainlanders. Test cases are likely to be selected and the challenge will be based on last month's controversial ruling by the Court of Final Appeal. Pam Baker, who represented 81 victorious migrants in that case, said she would expect an urgent court hearing to be arranged. She said a bid would probably be made for the immediate release of the seven concerned so they could spend Lunar New Year with their families in Hong Kong. Ms Baker says the case is likely to be based on claims that it is unreasonable to send people back to the mainland to comply with procedures that do not yet exist. The Government is yet to announce a new scheme for mainlanders to apply for certificates entitling them to exercise their right of abode in Hong Kong. William Clarke, another solicitor involved in last month's court battle, welcomed the decision. 'The Legal Aid Department is to be commended for being absolutely scrupulous in this case.' Mr Clarke said the test for deciding if legal aid should be granted was whether there were reasonable grounds for bringing legal action. 'Where a person's liberty is at stake it must be very easy to satisfy that test.' Mr Clarke revealed his firm had written to the Immigration Department asking them not to remove any overstayers claiming the right of abode pending the 'test case scenario'. The new court challenge is to be by judicial review and it is possible it will go before a Court of First Instance judge this week. At that stage it will only be to decide whether the mainlanders fighting moves to return them have a strong enough case to proceed to a full hearing. It is expected their lawyers, who have not yet been assigned, will argue they should not be removed pending the outcome of proceedings. The Court of Final Appeal ruled that the Government must put in place reasonable procedures to enable mainlanders to prove they have the right of abode in the SAR.