Like the Chinese constitution, mainland systems for maintaining law and order are often excellent in principle but deficient in practice. When a Hong Kong citizen is detained there, regulations state his family must be informed within 24 hours. There should be no need for the Security Bureau or the SAR's Beijing office to spend time meeting their mainland counterparts or compiling progress reports. But, as the Chinese saying goes, 'the mountains are high and the emperor is far away'. Rules set in Beijing may not be strictly followed by some local officials with a vague concept of citizens' rights. Families of SAR detainees are equally remote, and nothing but a nuisance if they turn up asking questions as to why no charges have been pressed or no trial date set months after the arrest. An official at the Supreme People's Procuratorate has admitted that cases are not always handled according to law. He blamed corruption and petty officials overstepping their powers. But as past events have shown, even government organisations tend to ignore the legal niceties if it suits them. So it is going to be a drawn-out process before the planned notification process can be relied on. Meanwhile, mainland officials have promised an office to handle SAR cases, where relatives can file complaints about malpractice. The SAR Government appears reluctant to defend its citizens even when the detainee's treatment runs contrary to mainland laws. If Hong Kong officials, as they claim privately, are working in the background to ensure that proper procedures are followed, they should say so. No confidences are breached by stating publicly that negotiations are underway. That will reassure the detainees' families that their plight is not forgotten, and will help to oil the wheels of mainland bureaucracy. It is in the interests of both sides to set up a foolproof notification process. Until that is done, families will continue to ask the press for help, bringing the publicity the SAR Government so deplores.