A TOP government lawyer came under fire yesterday for claiming the rule of law is stronger than before the handover. Acting Solicitor-General Robert Allcock said he wanted to combat claims that the legal system in Hong Kong was 'in serious trouble' after the right of abode controversy. 'I want to put things in perspective, to indicate we still have much greater protection in many areas than what we had before,' Mr Allcock said at a forum to discuss the future of the system. 'I think the position at present is that Hong Kong continues to have a high degree of autonomy, better protection of its common law, stronger judicial powers and a stronger rule of law than before July 1, 1997.' Mr Allcock said the British Government used to have extensive powers to block the passing of laws it did not like in Hong Kong. It could also change common law principles by introducing legislation, and the courts were rarely able to intervene. The Basic Law provided protection for the common law and gave 'tremendous powers' to the Judiciary to prevent the Government exceeding its powers, he added. Professor Michael Davies, of the Chinese University, said: 'I am not sure this is a very powerful argument. I would hope we are better off than under colonialism. 'I think a lot of people in the world would think they are better off than under apartheid or slavery. I don't think that is the argument.' The Court of Final Appeal, in upholding a National People's Congress Standing Committee interpretation that overturned one of its rulings, had been 'cowed into submission', he said. 'It is the kind of judgment where the court, this time, clearly wanted to satisfy its critics. It seems to say, this is a good strategic move,' Professor Davies said. 'What is troubling here is not so much that the court backed down, but that the Government made the court do so.' Philip Dykes SC said the court's ruling 'has introduced a state of uncertainty into the law'. 'The consequences of the interpretation extend far beyond the rights of the parties to litigation. Matters to be referred, I can foresee happening, would be in the public law context and that would affect everybody in Hong Kong,' he added. Another speaker, Danny Gittings, associate editor of the South China Morning Post, said the legal battle might have been lost but the political one had at least been fought to a draw. The Government would be reluctant to seek further interpretations from Beijing because it had 'to some extent been taken aback by the extent of the reaction over this case'. He added: 'That, in itself, acts as a deterrent.'