WITH a little more than two years and 526 ordinances to go, the Legal Department is confident that the 21,000-page Hongkong statute books will be completely translated into Chinese by the 1995 deadline. A Legal Department spokesman said this week that it had certainly been difficult at the beginning to settle on the appropriate use of language for translations, but once the drafters had become familiar with the text style it became easier. This optimism, however, could be slightly misplaced if one looks at the task that confronts the drafting division. Calculations based on figures supplied by the Legal Department reveal that staff working on the project have taken four years to translate and gazette six of the 532 ordinances - or one per cent of the legislation of Hongkong. The problem is the tedious process required to authenticate the translation by the Bilingual Laws Advisory Committee (BLAC), who must examine each word with a linguistic fine tooth comb to determine whether the nuances of the text are correct. At the moment, about 225 ordinances have Chinese drafts at various stages of completion; of which 94 have been examined by the BLAC. The BLAC is a 20-member body made up of practising lawyers, linguists, academics, Legislative Council members and a law drafter, who must scrutinise all translated ordinances before they are approved by Legco and Exco. ''Currently, the Attorney-General's Chambers is putting a lot of resources into the bilingual laws programme - a programme to produce a Chinese text for the 532 existing ordinances that were enacted in English only,'' a department spokesman said. ''The target is to provide Chinese drafts of all existing legislation before the end of 1995.'' To reduce the back-log, a part-time Law Translation Scheme was introduced in 1991, which added another 40 to 50 Government Chinese Language Officers to the task of translating the less complex ordinances. These translators submit their translations to the Law Drafting Division for approval before the documents can proceed to the BLAC. Figures provided by the Legal Department this week estimated that 4,500 pages of draft Chinese texts would be produced each year with this additional help. But to translate the existing statutory laws in Hongkong from English to Chinese is only the first step to prepare the language transition. Current legislation requires that all ordinances passed after April 1989 have to be enacted bilingually. Sixty-two of these are now part of the law of the territory but only 50 per cent of the ordinances written in English have been translated by the Law Drafting Division of the Attorney-General's Chamber. According to former Attorney-General, Mr Michael Thomas, QC, now a leading lawyer in private practice, the Government and the Judiciary has failed to adopt any policy to localise the language of law in the territory. ''A surprisingly large proportion of Cantonese-speaking Hongkong judges and lawyers would not be capable of arguing legal problems in Cantonese, nor are they skilled at reading Chinese legal texts, still less, writing Chinese legal texts,'' he told the American Chamber of Commerce earlier this week. A Legal Department spokesman said that the use of the Chinese language is a matter for the Judiciary, and added: ''It is stated in the Joint Declaration that 'In addition to Chinese, English may also be used in organs of government and in the courts in the Hongkong Special Administrative Region'.'' Similarly, the Basic Law stipulates: ''In addition to the Chinese language, English may also be used as an official language by the executive authorities, legislature and judiciary of the Hongkong Special Administration Region.'' Since 1974, legislation has permitted Chinese to be spoken in the lower courts including the magistrate's courts, the coroner's courts and tribunals, when all parties involved can speak the language. In 1987, a working party on the use of Chinese in court proceedings completed a report which listed a set of recommendations, including the discretion for all parties in court to use whatever language they preferred - except before the Court of Appeal. The working group also recommended that Chinese should be used in civil cases when many documents were involved. ''The whole idea was to give flexibility to the use of language in courts,'' said Mr Johannes Chan Man-mun, who was a member of the working party at the time. ''When it comes to stating simple facts in courts, Cantonese should be used. This helps non-English speaking defendants to understand the circumstances under which they have been charged. ''But when dealing with case law and legal arguments, English should be used. Eliminating English completely may mean losing the common law link. After all, people can only respect the law if they know what it is,'' he said. Though these recommendations were studied by the Judiciary, they were never implemented. In 1991, the Judiciary published a practice direction which required all pleadings to be accompanied by a Chinese summary, and this was to be reviewed after six months. ''But no one knows what has happened to the review, no report has been handed from the Judiciary [to the public],'' Mr Chan said. Also a senior lecturer at the Law Department, Hongkong University, Mr Chan said that as far as Chinese texts were concerned, there are some 60 to 70 Chinese legal books available for both the general public and legal professionals but their standard varies greatly. ''Last year, a three-volume encyclopaedia on Hongkong law written by a local magistrate was published. Some, not all, of these Chinese texts cite authoritative cases. But we have no law journal to provide legal professionals with updated information,'' Mr Chan said. He said that the Government could play an important role in this aspect by commissioning legal experts to write authoritative texts which are now lacking. In terms of legal education and training, the Law Faculty at the Hongkong University introduced a course called ''The Use of Chinese in Law'' in 1987 which aimed to prepare students for the use of Chinese in the Hongkong legal system. ''Students are to familiarise themselves with the Chinese legal vocabulary as more and more legal documents, memoranda, and contracts are written in Chinese,'' Mr Chan said. ''They also have to learn to translate and interpret legislations in Chinese which have been enacted since 1989.'' Apart from this optional course, the rest of the teaching in the department is in English. The City Polytechnic has started the production of a Chinese digest of the common law but progress is slow and the work is under-funded. Former colonial territories like Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka still use English in the judicial system. Mr Chan believes there is only one successful bilingual jurisdiction in the world: Quebec in Canada. Does Hongkong have the time and resourcesto become the second?