The problem is that everyone's been brainwashed by the common law,' said one senior official. The Government's public line on the right of abode controversy puts it slightly more diplomatically. Officials have repeatedly sought to suggest that the real reason why so much of the legal community has strenuously objected to seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law from Beijing is because they know nothing about the mainland legal system. 'That arrangement may seem strange to those trained in the common law,' claimed Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie. 'It is natural for those familiar with the common law system to object to a non-judicial body revising an interpretation of the law given by a final appellate court.' But these attempts to smear opponents of the Government action as ignorant in the realities of the post-1997 set-up have already fallen spectacularly flat on at least one occasion. During an RTHK discussion, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong leader, Tsang Yok-sing, was left with egg on his face after he accused Citizens Party chairman Christine Loh Kung-wai of opposing the application to the National People's Congress Standing Committee because she knows nothing about mainland law. In fact, Ms Loh has a master's degree in Chinese law and is considering studying for a doctorate. That means she probably knows more about the mainland legal system than Mr Tsang and most of the others who came rushing to the Government's defence last week. Not surprisingly it also makes Ms Loh contemptuous of such efforts to portray critics of the administration's action as ignorant. 'It's just a cheap shot to try to make people shut up,' she said. That is not to dispute the widespread lack of knowledge in Hong Kong about the mainland's very different legal set-up, which is broadly based on the civil law system. But, as shown by Ms Loh's encounter with Mr Tsang, this is hardly a problem confined to the Government's critics. Within the administration, probably only Ms Leung and a small team in the Department of Justice know anything about Chinese law. In the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Barry Mortimer has admitted to feeling 'ill-equipped' to decide issues of mainland law, when hearing a case on the legality of the provisional legislature. That is a defect which will shortly be rectified, with reports yesterday that eight judges will head for Beijing in August to attend a month-long course on the Chinese constitution at Qinghua University. In the meantime, Government efforts to portray its opponents as ignorant are likely to continue to backfire. As Ms Loh points out, there are plenty of experts in mainland law among those alarmed at the administration's action. Professor Zhu Guobin, now at City University, has warned that the Government's action has set a dangerous precedent. Like many other mainland legal experts, he is worried by the way in which the application to the Standing Committee is being made, even though he does not necessarily oppose seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law. More damagingly for the administration, the Bar Association has put forward powerful arguments to suggest that seeking an interpretation in order to overturn the effects of the court ruling would be in breach of Chinese law and the national constitution. This is based on the views of mainland scholars on the different types of interpretation permitted in China. So the Government's attempts to smear its critics may prove to be a double-edged weapon. For, judging from the views of these experts, the more people learn about mainland law the more objections there will be to the way in which the administration is surrendering Hong Kong's autonomy.