There is little point in pretending that the Government's long-expected decision to opt for a reinterpretation of Articles 22 and 24 of the Basic Law will not be welcomed by the public. A speedy solution which cuts down the number of eligible migrants to a fraction of the quoted figures is, for many people, the only thing that matters. The high profile campaign spelling out the perils of mass migration into the SAR has succeeded admirably in concentrating minds on the threat to living standards posed by the new arrivals, at the expense of abstract considerations such as the dignity and authority of the Hong Kong courts and the integrity of the rule of law. The community's instinct is to repel the expected influx at all costs. And, in all fairness, it would be virtually impossible to absorb 1.6 million migrants, or anything like that number, in a relatively short period without severe pressure on the infrastructure. Unique nature Yesterday, the Chief Executive and senior officials emphasised time and again the dilemma they are faced with, and the unique nature of the problem posed by the ruling of the Court of Final Appeal. But regardless of its constitutional legality, the decision they have taken - and which it was always clear that they were determined to take - undermines the spirit of the 'one country, two systems' pledge, compromises the independence of the judicial system, and reduces the concept of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong to little more than a mirage. One of the arguments officials put forward for rejecting the 'amendment' option was that local deputies to the National People's Congress refused outright to support the idea. Mainland legal experts also advised against amending the Basic Law. But even the Government concedes that legislative amendment is the most acceptable procedure in common law jurisdictions. That would have endorsed the Court of Final Appeal ruling as being in line with the true legislative intent of the Basic Law, but acknowledged that the mini-constitution required amendment to minimise the impact of the judgment on society. By seeking reinterpretation by the NPC Standing Committee, the SAR Government is assured of rubber-stamp approval in its quest to cut back the numbers of mainlanders with right of abode. In doing so, it has diminished the authority of the Court of Final Appeal whose right to final adjudication is enshrined in the Basic Law, and it has dealt a lasting blow to judicial independence. But the Government's view that this will bring a speedy and definitive end to the matter is open to question. There could be many legal challenges to the 'reinterpretation' in the months or years ahead, and it will be interesting to see how courts will handle them. Political pressure became a factor in the Judiciary on the day in February when the Government contacted the Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang to seek 'clarification' of the Court of Final Appeal ruling. After yesterday's developments, the SAR's judges cannot fail to be conscious that these pressures hover behind the seat of judgment whenever constitutional rulings are involved. It remains to be seen how resolute they will be in defending and maintaining the independence of the courts now that the Government has answered its critics by emphasising that the Standing Committee has the power of final interpretation of any Basic Law provisions. The test may very likely come when the Court of Final Appeal is asked to adjudicate on the recent ruling over the defacing of the Chinese flag. Mainland law regards such an act as a crime, whereas in the SAR's courts, the action was upheld as the individual right to freedom of expression, as laid down by the two United Nations conventions on human rights to which Hong Kong, and recently the mainland, are both signatories. Scant respect This administration has frequently shown scant respect for Legco, which is now denied the time for an informed debate on the matter. The Government has conducted a shabby and emotive 'floodgates' campaign against the right of abode ruling, based on questionable statistics, and with a haste which is hardly justified while the one-way permit system remains in operation. Tung Chee-wah insisted yesterday that judicial independence remains the cornerstone of SAR prosperity, but he will have a hard job convincing the outside world that the rule of law is alive and well in Hong Kong.