Before the handover, Elsie Leung Oi-sie was a respected family lawyer whose meteoric elevation to one of the most important posts in the SAR caused something of a stir because she lacked widely recognised qualifications for the job. As Secretary for Justice, she has been embroiled in controversy most of the time ever since. News of her extended tenure to June 2002 is proving equally contentious, although the announcement will not cause much surprise. The Chief Executive has frequently affirmed his faith in her as his top law officer. She is just as well respected on the mainland, thanks to a lifetime of close contacts there. But, sadly, that high opinion is not shared by many in local legal circles, nor is it endorsed by a clear majority of the public. The controversy surrounding Sally Aw Sian two years ago, and Miss Leung's handling of it, caused the first tremors of alarm. When she cited 'public interest' for failing to prosecute the newspaper magnate, although four executives from Ms Aw's newspaper, the Hong Kong Standard were imprisoned for falsifying circulation figures, senior legal figures expressed astonishment that the Secretary for Justice should have strayed so far from legal considerations when reaching her decision. Her main argument, that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, was not supported by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Ms Aw's social position and her long friendship with the Chief Executive raised fears there now might be one law for the rich and another for the poor. For many critics, on that day Hong Kong ceased to be a city where no one is above the law. Although the courts retain their independence, and the common law is still paramount, the concept of rule of law was badly damaged by the decision and the harm will be difficult to dispel. Widespread anxiety over the local courts' loss of autonomy greeted the SAR Government's decision to appeal to Beijing over the Court of Final Appeal's right of abode ruling. It was the Executive Council which decided to seek reinterpretation of the relevant clause in the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. But if the Secretary for Justice had advised against it, the request would almost certainly not have been made. It struck legal colleagues as equally shocking when she defended the decision in the Legislative Council by saying she saw no difference between 'clarification' and 'rectification'. More controversy arose when laws were adopted to exempt the central Government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong from many local ordinances. More recently, damage to the common law was cited as one reason for the Economist Intelligence Unit's decision, in a global survey, to downgrade the city from first to sixth place in its rankings of free market economies. Thus in some ways, the justice system has not fared well under Miss Leung's tutelage. To be fair, there is no question that Miss Leung acts in a way she believes is best for Hong Kong. Insiders also claim that, because the Beijing leadership feels so comfortable with her, she has been able to persuade them that it would be better to wait for an indefinite period before drafting a contentious sedition law as called for by Article 23 of the Basic Law. Professionally, the Secretary for Justice is at best perceived as well-intentioned but lacking political wisdom, at worst as being too considerate of Beijing's interests. At the time of the censure motion last year, which Miss Leung survived, there were calls for her resignation, when it might have been appropriate to identify a successor. Although no one has been groomed to take over, there are lawyers from the democratic and pro-Beijing camps with the qualifications needed for the post but perhaps few have the political connections. It may be that none has the appetite for a job which traditionally attracts so much criticism, although never before has there been criticism of the sustained kind that has marred Miss Leung's tenure. So it is difficult to welcome the Chief Executive's decision to reappoint her.