ON FEBRUARY 1, Pam Baker - lawyer, thorn in the side of the Government and (to use the sort of quaint expression to which she is wonderfully prone) all-round good egg - closed her office in Mongkok. 'What's that awful word? Downsizing. That's what we were doing. We said we're not going to do any more of these big cases with Legal Aid. I was planning to write a book, be a granny, potter around and relax a bit. And then this came up.' 'This', of course, was the legal crisis which erupted as a result of the Court of Final Appeal's judgment on the right of abode. It soon became clear that someone was going to have to represent the interests of the overstayers. 'Legal Aid rang up, I was flattered, and I stupidly said I'd do it,' said Baker, with a grin. 'And it's enormous fun. Mighty inconvenient working from home in Sai Kung, though, carrying big boxes of papers everywhere on the bus.' Especially with those maniac drivers at the wheel, I murmured. But Baker, who is not one of those dispiriting interviewees who specialises in the tepid response, cried, 'Aren't they marvellous? When they're being cautious and slow down sometimes, I think, 'Oh God, I'm going to be late in court.' ' We met for tea and, in her case, rather a lot of cigarettes in the Grand Hyatt. She says, and I can well believe it, her voice has dropped an octave because of her smoking. (How many a day? 'Don't know, don't want to know. It keeps me going and I think people who give up at 70 are pretty bloody silly.') Being no advocate of nicotine I'm sorry to report that, as a result, she speaks with a beguiling huskiness, like Vanessa Redgrave, and has a terrific, throaty laugh. In fact, she'd probably have been a good actress; her best friend, since they were wartime evacuees in South Africa 60 years ago, is Virginia McKenna, star of Born Free. Baker, however, has used her distinctive vocal abilities in pursuit of human, not leonine, freedom. The effect, as she is surely aware, is part of her appeal: 'I met a man once who said he'd heard me on the radio and he didn't know what I was talking about but he loved the voice.' Until the end of last year, what she was usually talking about was the Vietnamese boat people. She became involved in their plight in the early 1990s when she was a senior counsel with the Legal Aid department which she'd joined, from England, in 1982. 'I didn't want to leave Legal Aid. I loved it, and I was very slow about going. But I knew I would be so ashamed of myself, I couldn't have looked at myself in the mirror if I'd continued taking that lovely money from the Hong Kong Government while they were behaving so badly.' She left in 1991 and went into private practice. At this point, I warned that I was going to ask a vulgar question. 'I know, 'Are you bankrupt?' ' Baker laughed. (She's good at anticipation. A little earlier, when I'd signalled that a tricky matter was about to be addressed, she'd simply responded, 'Sixty-nine in August.') 'Until 1994, '95, we were managing on the money I'd saved. Then, when we began to litigate, we went to Legal Aid. And although we charged a quarter of what everyone else did, that was still enough.' I wasn't sure exactly who 'we' was so Baker began, 'Well, I'm the spider in the middle of the web.' I demurred, thinking that was a pretty revolting image but Baker insisted, 'It's what I am. I'm not a mother hen. I am not a liberal, woolly headed do-gooder. I'm not a social worker. I don't know Vietnam, I don't speak Vietnamese. It wasn't a soppy thing. It was because it was such a flagrant abuse of rights.' Then she leaned forward and recited, 'I wish I loved the human race / I wish I loved its silly face / And when I'm introduced to one / I wish I thought 'What jolly fun'.' Ogden Nash? 'Don't know. Probably.' (I checked later, it's a 1920s poem called Wishes Of An Elderly Man by a Walter Raleigh.) Doesn't she love the human race? 'Well, I'm selective.' I thought this was interesting, and perfectly reasonable; the possibility that she might inadvertently be mistaken for some sort of forensic Mother Teresa clearly horrifies her. An all-embracing, touchie-feeliness is emphatically not her thing. Oddly enough, she made me think of another Teresa - the 16th century Catholic theologian of Avila who went stomping around, shaking her fist at the Almighty, while devoting her life to the Church. In the same way Baker seems to be someone who plugs away at injustice almost in spite of herself, fuelled, as she puts, it by 'righteous indignation'. When I asked her how informed her actions were by a sense of morality, she said, 'Regrettably, a lot of my law is based on morality. I'm not a lawyers' lawyer, they regard me as a definite oddball. Esoteric, semantic arguments don't turn me on. It's about a gut feeling. I want to say, This is right, that is wrong.' She has, in her time, been a Non-Conformist (rather apt, one would have thought), an Anglican and a Catholic (her ex-husband of 27 years was one, and she says she used to sleep without a pillow 'which I hated' as a penance during Lent, as an example to their six children; somehow that sounded highly characteristic). Then one of her daughters joined the Moonies. 'A nightmare. I used to be allowed to visit - they smiled all the time and, of course, there was no drinking and no smoking, I had to nip into the woods with my hipflask and fags. I started reading everything I could on organised religion, and I realised that they were all the same. So that's when I became an agnostic.' After five years, her daughter got out. 'She never talked to me about it.' Why? 'Good question. Don't know.' Later, when I asked if she had any regrets, she said, 'No. Well, that's not strictly true - I have rather lost touch with my kids. Certain of my grandchildren, I suspect, don't know who I am. I'm that woman who blows in and then blows out again. I want to put that right. I think I can.' Which is what she was intending to do at the beginning of this month. Now she's off on another legal rollercoaster and, unlike the Vietnamese refugees, this one has no obvious sell-by date. She could be shaking her fist at the administration for a long time to come, and good luck to her. 'I keep telling Rob [Brook, her assistant], for Christ's sake if you hear the sound of marbles dropping let me know. But if it's a fight, I'll fight. Adrenalin is a great cure for Alzheimer's.'