The NPC Standing Committee had 'clear and unrestricted' power to interpret parts of the Basic Law already ruled on by the Court of Final Appeal in its landmark right of abode judgment, the Government argued yesterday. Launching an appeal which could affect the fate of many thousands of migrants, Geoffrey Ma SC, for the Director of Immigration, urged the top court to follow the Standing Committee's decision. He said the power the Basic Law gave to the National People's Congress 'could not be clearer'. It was a supreme power, which was unrestricted and could have retrospective effect. 'What it means is the courts have the final say in cases before them. That does not prevent the Standing Committee from adopting or making an interpretation, as it has done in this case,' said Mr Ma. The Standing Committee reinterpretation, given at the request of the Government in order to avoid an alleged influx of 1.6 million migrants, in effect reversed the court's landmark judgment in January. Mr Ma, making his submissions to the same five judges who gave that ruling, argued they must abide by the decision. The Government is seeking to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling, given before the reinterpretation, in favour of 17 migrants who claim the right of abode in accordance with the January judgment. Almost 100 members of the public watched the proceedings on television screens in the building. The question of whether it was necessary for the court to consider the validity and effect of the reinterpretation when deciding the case was the first issue discussed. It will be claimed on behalf of the migrants that the Standing Committee's decision breaches the Basic Law and is invalid. Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang said: 'These issues concerning the interpretation are of fundamental constitutional importance. It appears to me there is no way the court can avoid these issues.' The reinterpretation marked the 'high-water mark' of the Government's case. If it was right that the Standing Committee's decision must be followed by the courts, no other arguments were necessary, he said. Mr Ma said the power to interpret was given to the Standing Committee under the first paragraph of Article 158 of the Basic Law. The next two paragraphs, dealing with the right of the court to give the final adjudication in cases, did not restrict that power, he added. 'We say the words on their own do not have the effect of divesting the power of interpretation of any provision of the Basic Law from the Standing Committee,' Mr Ma told the court. He said the reinterpretation provided the true meaning of parts of the Basic Law dealing with immigration from the mainland and the right of abode. Asked by Sir Anthony Mason whether there was any limitation on the power of the Standing Committee to interpret the Basic Law, Mr Ma said: 'It is, of course, unrestricted. It will be my next argument that in terms of retrospective effect it does date back to July 1, 1997 [when the Basic Law came into operation].' But the interpretation had made it clear it was not intended to apply to migrants directly involved in the court's landmark January ruling, he pointed out. How that affects the current 17 applicants has yet to be established. The appeal, before Mr Justice Li, Mr Justice Henry Litton, Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, Mr Justice Charles Ching and Sir Anthony, will continue today.