There was some perverted logic on display yesterday as the Government sought to portray its request that Beijing ride roughshod over Hong Kong's highest court as a move to protect the SAR's autonomy. Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie even came close to suggesting it would enhance such autonomy. Her dubious reasoning was that, since re-interpretation is strongly backed by public opinion, Beijing will simply be implementing the wishes of Hong Kong people. 'If there is a strong demand in the community for the problem to be resolved, an interpretation should not be seen as an interference in Hong Kong's autonomy but rather as a response to that demand,' Ms Leung told legislators. In other words: as long as the Government can rally public opinion - even if this involves heavy manipulation - that is reason enough for overriding the SAR's highest court. But even she could not entirely deny that seeking a re-interpretation from the National People's Congress Standing Committee sets a precedent which could, in theory, be used in future to erode human rights. 'That is correct as a matter of law,' Ms Leung admitted, insisting there were practical reasons why this would never happen. 'We must distinguish between those things which are legally possible and the political reality.' But these supposed constraints do not mean very much. One is the much-cited statistic that the Standing Committee has only issued eight such interpretations since 1954. But, as professional investors like to say, past performance is no guide to the future, especially now a precedent has been set to justify interference. Nor is much protection offered by the other supposed safeguard, that any interpretation must reflect the 'true legislative intent' of the Basic Law. The recent judgment striking down the law on defacing the national flag, now before the Court of Final Appeal, should offer an early test of how often this unfortunate precedent is to be invoked. But if the Government also refers that issue to Beijing then it is unlikely considerations of 'true legislative intent' will stop the Standing Committee from overruling that judgment as well. Then there is the argument with the Legislative Council over its rules of procedure. The Government insists these breach the Basic Law and may now find it difficult to resist the temptation to resolve this dispute by seeking an interpretation from Beijing. Voices are already suggesting the power to overrule the local courts should be invoked much more widely. An article in Wen Wei Po on May 7, cited by legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee in Hong Kong Lawyer, advocates re-interpreting a total of seven articles of the Basic Law. These include Article 39, which ensures international human rights covenants continue to apply in the SAR. The others are Articles 17(2) and (3), 73(1), 84 and 158(3) as well as the two which were the subject of yesterday's announcement, Articles 22(4) and 24(2). While there is no sign that the Government yet supports such sweeping action, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang yesterday did not rule out further applications for re-interpretation in future. Instead she said only it was 'not something we will do very frequently'. This reflects the sad reality that this is unlikely to be the last time Beijing is asked to overrule the local courts. Spin-doctors may try to portray this situation as 'exceptional'. But almost any case can fall into that category if the Government wishes, and manipulates public opinion accordingly. Hong Kong should expect to see more 'exceptional' cases in the months and years ahead. All that is uncertain is how often they will occur.